Using Light Bushel Weight Barley in Cattle Rations


In some areas of the province, bushel weights of grains this year is much lower than what is considered normal due to hot dry conditions. Initial reports are indicating that bushel weight of threshed grains is variable and that the bushel weight of barley is ranging from 35 to 50 pounds per bushel. Feedlots and elevators are more than willing to take the heavy weight barley without any hesitation or discounts. When barley bushel weights are below 46 pounds (approximately) then 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 in a cow, backgrounding or home finishing program. Dr. Garry Mathison and Dr. Larry Milligan from the University of Alberta conducted research in the mid 1980’s that compared average daily gain and feed conversion efficiency when barley with different bushel weight barleys was fed to finishing steers. Bushel weights varied from a low of 34 pounds to a high of 51 pounds. The 47 pound barley was considered to be of “average quality”. Ninety steers were fed a 90% concentrate diet for 84 days.

They reported that light barley contained less starch and protein, but more fibre and ash than the heavy barley. 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 Light weight grain at 7 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of gain, and the heavy barleys were required only 6.7 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of gain. The reported difference in feed efficiency was 4%. They also found no differences in efficiency between the steam-rolled and dry rolled barley.

In other trials, the loss in feeding efficiency between feeding whole or rolled barley to feedlot steers or mature cows ranges from 12 to 15%. With barley at approximately $5.00 per bushel, it is economical to process the grain if the processing cost is less than $0.60 to $0.75 per bushel.

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%. In other words, the weight of the processed grain should be between 75 and 81% of the whole grain bushel weight. For example: a 48 pound barley 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 is reduced. If the processing index is too high (over 81%), there is insufficient processing resulting in a loss in efficiency. If the processing index is too low (below 75%), the grain is over processed which could cause sub clinical acidosis which reduces feed intake and animal performance.

Spending time to adjust the rollers to obtain a 75 to 81% rolling index is worth the time and effort. If the rolls are not reset, a light weight grain will pass through the mill and 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.

Photo Credit: Lee Gunderson

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