Nutrition and Management: Selecting Crops and Varieties For Silage

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 Take home message | Barley | Triticale | Corn

This is a fact sheet from the Nutrition and Management section of the Alberta Feedlot Management Guide,Second Edition published September 2000. The 1200 page guide is available for purchase on CD-ROM.

Take Home Message

  • The ideal silage variety has high whole plant yields, high quality, and good lodging resistance.
  • Under irrigation and areas of high rainfall, semi-dwarf varieties are preferred.
  • Semi-dwarf barleys are capable of producing high silage yields and their shorter straw reduces lodging.
  • In the drier areas of the province longer strawed, standard varieties or triticale will produce higher silage yields.
  • Rotate your silage crops to reduce diseases and maintain yields.
  • The quality of triticale is close to barley when cut at the same stage.
  • Corn is the highest quality silage and should be considered in a rotation in areas where corn can be grown.
  • When choosing silage varieties - generally the highest grain producer will be the highest silage producer.

Barley has traditionally been the preferred annual silage crop for feedlots. The high digestibility, high yields and low cost/ton to produce has made it a staple in feedlot rations. The incidence of barley diseases from poor crop rotations has led to reduced silage yields. Triticale and shorter seasoned corn varieties are alternatives to add to the rotations to reduce the incidence of disease and maintain silage yields and silage quality. Continuous cropping of any crop kind will cause a build up of disease and should be avoided.

The ideal barley silage has high whole plant yields, high quality and good lodging resistance. Under irrigation and areas of high rainfall, semi-dwarf are the preferred barley types. Semi-dwarf barleys are capable of producing high silage yields and their short straw reduces the amount of lodging. In drier areas of the province longer strawed standard varieties will produce higher silage yields.

A rule of thumb for choosing a variety is “the barley variety which produces the highest grain yield in your area will generally give you the highest silage yields”. Figure 1 indicates the ratios of the stem, leaves and grain in two barley types at Lacombe. Virden is a tall standard variety and Tukawa is a semi-dwarf variety. In both cases, the percent grain in the silage varies between 30% and 55% of the total yield of the silage, depending on the growing conditions from year to year. The average grain component of the silage is about 45% of the total yield in both barley types. The stem made up a higher percentage of the tall barley variety than it did in the semi-dwarf variety. Virden averaged 35% stem and Tukawa averaged 30% stem over three years.

There is year-to-year variation in the proportion of stem in both varieties. The % leaf varied between varieties but not enough to make a significant difference in the quality of the silage. Figure 1 indicates that the year to year variation in leaf, stem and grain is greater than the variation between varieties. There has not been enough research to determine differences in quality (digestibility, protein, fibre levels) between all the barley varieties. The lower ratio of stem and higher ratio of grain in the semi-dwarf barleys may produce a silage with lower fibre levels and higher digestibility than the longer strawed varieties, but more research is needed in this area.

Figure 1. Proportions of grain, leaf and stem in 2 barley varieties grown over 3 seasons at Lacombe. Balance of total yield was awns. Barley was sampled at the dough stage. Source V,S. Baron, unpublished.

There has been some concern with the use of rough awned barley causing lesions in the mouths of cattle fed high levels of silage. If possible choose a variety which is smooth awned to avoid this problem. As the barley matures and dries down the awns on the barley become stiff, sharp and brittle and may lodge in the mouth or throat of the livestock. Cutting the silage before it becomes too dry will also reduce the mouth problems associated with rough awns.

Scald and net blotch are two barley diseases which will affect barley silage yields, especially if the flag leaf is infected. Proper cropping rotations utilizing crops such as triticale, corn, other cereals, or perennials such as alfalfa or grass will reduce the build up of diseases. When growing barley, choose varieties which have some resistance to scald and net blotch. Early results from research carried out by T.K.Turkington at the Lacombe Research Centre show some benefit to rotating barley varieties, as well as rotating barley varieties developed at different breeding institutions. Barley varieties have been developed with resistance to certain strains of these diseases. With poor rotations, other less predominate and potentially more virulent strains of these diseases may become more prevalent, causing significant disease, which will result in silage yield losses.


Spring triticale varieties have been developed which have digestibilities close to barley when cut at the same stage. Triticale is drought tolerant and tends to yield well under different soil moisture conditions. The strong straw of triticale eliminates lodging problems. The maturity of triticale is longer than barley which spreads out the silage harvest season. Scald and net blotch do not affect triticale, which makes it a good crop to grow in a barley rotation. As with barley, the highest seed yielder on your farm will generally be the highest silage yielder.


Corn has been grown in areas of Alberta with sufficient heat units to produce good yields. New short season varieties are being developed and have the potential to expand the boundaries of the traditional corn growing areas. Contact your forage or crop specialist to determine if corn is a viable option in your area. The feed quality of corn silage is superior to barley silage and should be considered if you are in a corn growing area. The Alberta Corn Committee conducts variety yield trials in Alberta and should be consulted to determine variety yields.

Alberta does not have a variety testing program to determine yields and quality of cereals for silage. There are local trials in some areas of the province which may be carried out by the district specialists with Alberta Agriculture, forage associations, research associations or agriculture service boards. Check with your nearest extension office to see if there are any in your area.

Arvid Aasen, Alberta Agriculture Market Specialist, 2000. Alberta Feedlot Management Guide.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Linda Hunt.
This information published to the web on October 25, 2007.
Last Reviewed/Revised on October 16, 2014.