This farmer grows animal feed in just seven days thanks to hydroponics, but starting out is pricey

Business Insider SA
Animal feed (Supplied)
Animal feed (Supplied)
  • Farmer Mathoke Phaladi grows animal fodder hydroponically, without soil or land, and gets to harvest throughout the year. 
  • The animal feed takes seven days to grow and costs about R65 for 10 kilograms. 
  • With the help of various organisations, Phaladi managed to gather funds to procure the necessary equipment to further his business Thari's Fodder. 
  • Today the company is able to produce about 1,000 kilograms of fodder everyday. 
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Mathoke Phaladi is a young farmer who grows high nutrition animal fodder hydroponically in just seven days, and the feed grows throughout the year.

The young farmer and founder of Thari's Fodder was born and raised in Limpopo where he herded livestock from an early age, and later developed an interest in farming.

Hydroponically grown animal feed (Supplied)
Hydroponically grown animal feed (Supplied)

"When I was growing up, we did farming, both livestock and crops, but not for commercial purposes. It was for our own consumption," he said.

As he grew older, Phaladi knew that he wanted to farm commercially but did not know what kind of farming he wanted to specialise in. Financial barriers to starting up didn't make it easy either.

While looking for a window of opportunity to get into commercial framing, the entrepreneur stumbled upon Wouldn't It Be Cool (WIBC), a business incubator that mentors, supports, and funds upcoming small businesses in various sectors including hydroponic farming.

Phaladi tried his luck and after making it into the WIBC, he started conducting research on what kind of crop he wanted to plant on a large scale.

"In our country, the biggest crisis that I think livestock farmers face is the lack of rain. We've experienced drought in previous years. There's been a case where over 1,000 animals died from drought because they lacked food or high quality feed," he said.

It is this tragedy that motivated Phaladi to venture into planting animal fodder, "to help those farmers who are struggling to get high nutrition feed from green feed such as green grass," he added.

Phaladi learned how to grow the high nutrition feed hydroponically to ensure that he was able to produce it throughout the year, through all seasons.  

Hydroponically grown grass (Supplied)
Hydroponically grown grass (Supplied)

The type of feed Phaladi farms is barley grain which is said to give the best yield of nutrients in green grasses. This is because it contains an abundance of nutrients unsurpassed by any other type of grass, and its takes only seven days to grow.

"It only takes me seven days to grow, just seven days. That's how we're able to produce a huge amount of grass in a short period of time. We are able to produce 1,000 kilograms each day," said Phaladi proudly.

The cost of starting up

Before starting out, an extensive amount of research is needed to ensure that the right equipment is procured.

Phaladi said the process took about 16 months before Thari's Fodder started operating fully in September, and estimates that he spent around R400,000 worth of funds to kick start the project.

"We had been operating but not with proper machines. Before I got proper machines I had been making my own prototype to see if the idea would work.

"During that time, I was able to produce small amounts of fodder, I couldn't provide as much as I can now with the machine," he said.

Today the company sells 10 kilograms of hydroponic fodder for R65, delivering only to customers in Gauteng.

Depending on the type of animal you're feeding, at least four kilograms is recommended for cows per day, 1.3 kilograms for sheep, and about 0.23 for chickens. Other animals require about three percent of their body weight per day, according to the farmer.  

Grazing cows (Supplied)
Grazing cows (Supplied)
Chickens feeding (Supplied)
Chickens feeding (Supplied)

In just 90 days, he promises, customers are guaranteed to see results as animals put on weight.

Although hydroponic farming could never replace conventional land farming, it tends to be a little more viable in certain aspects.

Goats grazing (Supplied)
Goats grazing (Supplied)
Grazing horses (Supplied)
Grazing horses (Supplied)

"It is guaranteed that your animals will always have grass throughout the year irrespective of the season. Animals usually gain weight and look healthy in summer but it's the opposite in winter. Not with hydroponics," said Phaladi.

Another benefit of hydroponic farming is the duration of planting, and the produce does not need  not a huge amount of land.  

The plants can also be manipulated to grow at night with the help of LED light in the absence of sunlight. This helps the grass grow about 30% to 50% faster than on the ground.

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