A question cattle farmers are asking is, can rolled barley replace compound rations this winter as a means of reducing feed costs?

Barley is great source of energy and starch.

However, it is low in protein, fibre and several trace elements.

As barley is digested rapidly in the rumen, there is a risk of animals developing acidosis, especially when grains are finely ground.

This means there are limitations to using barley as the sole supplementary feed source over winter.

Store cattle

On farms with moderate quality silage, feeding barley as the sole supplementary feed will result in the diet lacking protein.

As such, store cattle may be reasonably fleshed, but they are likely to lack frame and may be stunted. For good-quality silage with protein levels around 14% to 15% barley could be an option for animals that will go back to grass next spring.

But a major drawback is the diet will be mineral-deficient, so some form of supplementation will be required.

Finishing cattle

For cattle likely to reach slaughter weight within 60 to 90 days from housing, offering barley as the sole supplementary feed is an option for steers and heifers with traditional beef breeding.

With good-quality silage, barley can be fed at 4kg to 5kg/head to early-maturing cattle, split evenly across a morning and evening feed.

Later-maturing, continental-bred cattle will be harder to finish in terms of fat cover.

This means higher rates of barley will be required, increasing the risks of acidosis, metabolic issues and liver abscesses.

At least 10% of the diet should be some form of high-fibre forage

Feed rates should be increased gradually by 0.5 to 1kg/day every three to five days and, again, animals will need mineral supplementation.

Cattle should never be fed rolled barley while in a fasted state as animals are likely to develop acidosis.

There should always be silage, or some form of forage, in front of animals at all times. At least 10% of the diet should be some form of high-fibre forage.

Cattle also need plenty of feed space to stop dominant animals eating more than their allocation.

Cost difference

Taking rolled barley delivered on farm at €285/t and a compound ration at €310/t, is there a potential saving to be had?

mineral supplementation needs to be factored into the barley option, reducing the differential

On 30 continental-bred steers finished over 90 days from 1 November with good-quality silage and an average 7kg/day of meal, there is a feed saving of €15/head.

However, mineral supplementation needs to be factored into the barley option, reducing the differential.

While there is a potential saving, the question should be asked, does the barley only option outweigh the associated risks and practicalities over a formulated compound ration?

Read more

Big win for New Zealand farmers in UK trade deal

€250m per year ANC funds safe and €300m for TAMS