Feeding wheat to cattle without causing acidosis

Lethbridge Research Centre finds feed wheat can make up half of a ration if specific management techniques are used

Most feed wheat in North America goes into poultry or swine as rations, as feedlot operations are reluctant to use large quantities because wheat ferments considerably more rapidly in the rumen than corn or barley.

This increases the risk of ruminal acidosis, which can compromise the well-being and productivity of cattle.

But new research from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research Centre has found wheat can be fed at more than 50 per cent of dietary dry matter without an adverse impact.

A research team led by WenZhu Yang conducted a metabolism trial using fistulated beef heifers to determine whether different types of wheat grain could be fed as an alternative energy source. The research looked at whether soft wheat versus hard wheat might ferment at different rates and, therefore, have different values for feeding beef cattle. They also evaluated the effect of feeding more monensin (an ionophore used to improve feed efficiency and prevent or control coccidiosis) than the current practice.

“The evaluation of these dietary factors was investigated by measuring ruminal pH and rumen fermentation, microbial protein synthesis in the rumen, and the site and extent of nutrient digestion by finishing beef heifers,” Yang said.

While wheat can be fed at more than 50 per cent of dietary dry matter, beef producers need to pay attention to grain processing to ensure that ruminal starch digestion is not too fast, Yang said. This could result in subclinical ruminal acidosis or adversely impact animal health and growth performance.

The researchers also found that increasing monensin supplementation decreased feed consumption and increased propionate in the ruminal fermentation pattern, Yang said. Greater monensin feeding suggests a potential for improving feed efficiency.

“However, other factors such as proper feed adaptation, bunk management, and increasing the level of silage in the diet may also be effective management strategies,” Yang said.

Future research will examine the optimum processing of wheat grain. The team is also developing near-infrared spectroscopy calibrations that will take composition and digestion rate into account.

A paper on the research was published in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

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