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A Berkshire riding centre may have shown uncanny foresight in investing and testing a new hydroponics system this summer.

The system produces lush sprouting barley from seed over seven days as a hay substitute.

Keith Harris, whose wife Gill runs The Spanish Bit riding school in Dorney near Windsor, has a purpose-built hydroponic unit running at the riding school, which has been feeding 46 horses and ponies since April.

“We have replaced two daily feeds with fresh sprouting barley, and sometimes mix it with hay,” said Gill. “Our horses relish it and are look so well with glossy coats — we’ve even had to cut back their hard feeds.”

Meanwhile the Harrises home grown hay has produced about a third its normal yield this year.

The business, H2O Farm, is the first to use the FodderTech system developed in Australia by hydroponics expert Peter Doyle.

In other countries, the product is used to feed other species including cattle, sheep and even rabbits.

‘’One of key focus areas is horses as we have much experience here and have seen first hand that product really works,” said H2O Farm director Howard Campion.

The firm says the sprouting fodder improves coat and appearance, lowers feeding costs and reduces the likelihood of colic.

Once installed, the system produced 1kg of fodder for 5 pence, and in seven days produces 35kg of fodder from 5kg of seed.

Many horse owners recall another hydroponics system marketed 20 or so years ago in compact units, in which many people found mould grew.

“It is important to keep the production area clean, and to have air circulating to avoid mould,” agrees Keith Harris.

H2O sheds operate in a controlled environment with a fixed temperature, humidity and airflow, but do not require daylight.

For more details visit www.h2ofarm.co.uk or tel: 01753 576989