Archive » October 4, 2012
Another first for Santa Ynez High
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
In its ongoing effort to be above the curve both in technology and green energy, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School is once again first in the state – if not in the country – to invest in and use the latest technology to advance education and decrease costs. Agricultural advisor Kathy Bibby is always on the hunt for a new grant she can apply for as well as to locate the best resources to spend those dollars on. This summer, she discovered a new way for the high school to grow its own grain – cost, space and energy efficiently.
“This is definitely a cool thing,” says student-teacher Julie Laughton from Cal Poly. The component, built by Fodder Solutions, is scheduled to be delivered in the next week or so. The device is a biomass growing chamber used to sprout seeds and grains for livestock feed.
“It is state-of-the-art, and the thing that interests me most is the nutritional value of the feed,” said Bibby, who is excited by “the fact that the school will be able to produce our own feed on a daily basis for a minimum cost.”
Explaining how the component works, Bibby says that 3 pounds of grain at about $.60 a pound will net in less than a week approximately 18 pounds of usable feed. While that feed will need to be supplemented with a low-grade hay, the overall cost to the school for feed is significantly less.
“Excluding the cost of the unit, I estimate that the feeding unit will pay for itself in about three to four years,” she said. What is harder to affix is the educational value of the system.
Her Ag Mechanics class will be involved with the initial setup of the machine, after which it will be used in Earth Science, Ag Bio, Veterinary Science and Horticulture classes, she says. Bibby is already creating experiments for students to conduct with the new equipment.
For the moment the school will be purchasing the smallest available unit with its Carl Perkins Grant , but if they are able to raise an additional $4,000, Bibby would like to upgrade to the next larger size (securing a full refund for their initial purchase). “Ideally we would purchase of the larger unit, if we could find the funding,” said Bibby.
Both units plug into a 110 outlet only using 20 amps of power. The only other consumable besides the seed is water, said Bibby. At full production, the unit will produce approximately 110 pounds of feed a day with only roughly 17 pounds of grain used in the process. The larger unit produces 165 lbs. with a grain input of 25 pounds.
The school in the past has had to limit the number of sheep it raises due to the small pasture area that it has and the high cost of feed, said Bibby. If the new machine works as anticipated, the school could increase both its herd and the funds that they raise from it. But, Bibby is taking things one step at a time.
The system is a hydroponic growing room designed to sprout grain and legume seeds for feed. The output, said Bibby, is 100% natural. Should the school at a later date wish to purchase more expensive “organic” seed, and undergo the rigorous testing procedures, the school could eventually produce organic feed.
But for the moment, Bibby doesn’t see the need. She has in mind a number of experiments for students to conduct. One includes raising two sets of chicks, one on commercially made grain and one with the grain the school will now grow itself. Students will weigh and measure the chicks each week to compare the quality of their feed to what is commercially available.
A local family that asked the school to start some lambs for them in the spring will be fed in the same manner, giving students the ability both to test weight gain and also any impact the new feeding system has on the taste of the meat.
The use of the machine is fairly simple and students will be wholly responsible for it, said Bibby. Seeds are spread on growing trays and are watered at pre-determined intervals with overhead sprays. A set temperature is maintained inside the growing chamber, to ensure the best growth and highest nutritional value possible.
Each day, students simply slide the feed out of the trays, rinse the tray, re-seed and push the newly seeded tray into the other end of the system. The system holds enough trays to ensure desired daily production amounts.
“Something different than the common book work is definitely the theme of the department,” said Laughton.
Seeds are grown on the sprouting trays with no growing medium. Feed-quality barley germinates within 24 hours of seeding. The barley grows in the same tray for 6-days and is ready for harvest at a 12-inch, high-grass mat, explained Bibby.
The “sprout mat” is completely edible and highly nutritious as it is a living food. The animals will eat the entire mat, roots and green growth, so there is no waste. Fodder Solutions originates in Australia, but the system Santa Ynez will receive was manufactured in the United States.