Lightweight barley works well in cattle feeding program

One study found only a four per cent difference in feed efficiency, but it should be properly processed

A hot and dry summer has reduced barley weights in many areas, but lighter-weight barley doesn’t have a big impact on daily gain, says a provincial beef specialist.
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Initial reports from this year’s harvest indicate that bushel weight of threshed grains is variable, with barley ranging from 35 to 50 pounds per bushel.

“Feedlots and elevators are more than willing to take the heavyweight barley without any hesitation or discounts,” said beef and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio. “When barley bushel weights are below approximately 46 pounds, the number of marketing options start to shrink, and there can be significant price discounts when the contract is negotiated.”

Feeding light-bushel-weight grain to cattle is an opportunity to utilize a product that is discounted in the market but retains its value for backgrounding or home finishing program, he said.

University of Alberta research from the mid-1980s compared average daily gain and feed conversion efficiency when finishing steers were fed barley with bushel weights ranging from 34 pounds to a high of 51 pounds. The 47-pound barley was considered to be of “average quality,” and 90 steers were fed a 90 per cent concentrate diet for 84 days.

“They reported that light barley contained less starch and protein, but more fibre and ash than the heavy barley,” said Yaremcio. “The results indicate that there is no difference in average daily gain between the different bushel-weight grains.

“Feed conversion efficiency was less efficient for the lightweight grain at seven pounds of feed to produce one pound of gain, and the heavy barleys required only 6.7 pounds of feed to produce one pound of gain. The reported difference in feed efficiency was four per cent. They also found no differences in efficiency between the steam-rolled and dry-rolled barley.”

Other trials found the loss in feeding efficiency between feeding whole or rolled barley to feedlot steers or mature cows ranged from 12 to 15 per cent.

“With barley at approximately $5 per bushel, it is economical to process the grain if the processing cost is less than $0.60 to $0.75 per bushel, said Yaremcio. “To optimize grain feeding efficiency, grain should be rolled prior to feeding feedlot animals and mature cows. A properly processed barley grain should have a processing index between 75 and 81 per cent.

“In other words, the weight of the processed grain should be between 75 and 81 per cent of the whole grain bushel weight.”

Yaremcio uses 48-pound barley as an example.

“It should weigh between 36 and 39 pounds after rolling is complete. When barley is processed to this extent, digestibility is optimized and problems with acidosis are reduced. If the processing index is too high — over 81 per cent — insufficient processing results in a loss in efficiency. If the processing index is too low — below 75 per cent — the grain is overprocessed which could cause subclinical acidosis which reduces feed intake and animal performance.”

Spending time to adjust the rollers to obtain a 75 to 81 per cent rolling index is worth the time and effort, he said.

“If the rolls are not reset, a lightweight grain will pass through the mill and will not have the processing to optimize utilization. This will reduce performance, and in the long run, net dollars when animals are sold or overall cost of feeding cows is calculated.”

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