Comparing Oats, Barley and Wheat for Cattle Rations

  From the February 1, 2016 issue of Agri-News
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 Reducing feed costs for wintering cows is an objective that can pay huge dividends.

“It’s been estimated that for every $1 that you save in winter feed costs, the net profit for the operation increases by $2.48,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef/forage specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Stettler.

High hay prices have resulted in some producers changing to a straw grain ration prior to calving. “This is a good option,” says Yaremcio. “By feeding straw and grain pre-calving, it is possible to save roughly $350 compared to feeding hay throughout the entire winter. The question then becomes is it cheaper to feed oats or barley to the cows? Some of the items to consider are price and nutrient content of the grains.”

It is important to be aware of the price differential needed to replace barley with oats in a ration, or vice versa. “On average, barley contains 7 to 10% more protein and 7 to 10% more energy on a pound-for-pound basis compared to oats,” explains Yaremcio. “So, if there is six pounds of barley in the ration, it would be necessary to feed 6.6 pounds of oats to get the same amount of nutrients into the animal.”

On a per tonne basis, to replace 2204 pounds of barley, it would be necessary to feed 2352 pounds of oats to get the same amount of energy and an additional six pounds of canola meal to match protein levels. To have the same cost for feeding, oat needs to be $1.50 per bushel less expensive than barley to be a cost effective option.

“There are a few other considerations that need to be made before making the switch based on price alone,” explains Yaremcio. “If feeding whole grains to calves under 700 pounds, there’s no need to process the grain. The calves will do a good job of chewing and breaking the kernels so they are digested. For animals over 700 pounds (including cows), the animals tend to ‘gulp’ their food and don’t chew as much. Whole oats to larger animals results in a five to seven per cent reduction in digestive efficiency. Barley on the other hand has a 10 to 15% reduction in digestive efficiency when fed whole. This factor needs to be brought into the price differential discussion.”

Economically, if it is costing more than 15% of the price for barley or 7% of the price of oats to process the grain, it may be beneficial to feed extra grain and be money ahead in the long run, notes Yaremcio.

“Changing from oats to barley in a ration should be done gradually. Start with 25% barley in the mix for three to four days, and then increase the barley by 25% every three to four days. If all goes well, in 16 days the animals can be on 100% barley.”

Changing to feed wheat has different limitations. “Wheat must be cracked into two pieces (no finer than this) when feed to larger cattle. If it is fed whole, digestive efficiency is reduced by 25%. Wheat is digested faster than oats or barley which increases the risks of bloat or acidosis. Maximum feeding limits for wheat is three pounds per head per day for calves under 700 pounds and six pounds a day for mature cows. If switching to wheat, a gradual introduction into the ration is necessary. It’s advisable to include an ionophore into the ration when feeding wheat.”

When making the changes from one grain to another, there are two things to watch for:

  • Feed refusal. If feed consumption declines after a change, it may be an indication that the rumen is not functioning properly.
  • Consistency of the manure. If the manure becomes lose and watery, this is another indicator there are digestive problems.
“If either of these two problems occur, reduce the total amount of grain fed or go back to the previous mix of grain until the problems dissipate,” adds Yaremcio

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Barry Yaremcio.
This document is maintained by Ken Blackley.
This information published to the web on January 22, 2016.