Farm Ireland

Monday 24 October 2016

Irish grain best value for winter feed

Reduced acreage is likely to result in higher prices for Irish grain, but it will still represent the best value winter feed for livestock

Gerry Giggins

Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30

Harvest: There are numerous options available for treating, preserving, enhancing and storing grain.
Harvest: There are numerous options available for treating, preserving, enhancing and storing grain.

The changing colours of cereal crops throughout the country indicates the onset of the harvest period.

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While this is obviously a busy period for cereal farmers, livestock farmers should also be busying themselves with forward planning and purchasing of their winter feeds.

With what now seems to be an annual occurrence, world grain prices have been very volatile due to less than ideal weather patterns and growing conditions in some of the world's main grain growing regions.

This has resulted in an upward trend in prices, with the projected early summer prices now seeming conservative.

On the home front, Irish harvest production estimates are expected to be reduced from 2014 levels.

The area of spring barley grown here has been reduced by 24,000ha, while wheat is back by 6,000ha.

The only cereal crop to have increased in area grown is oats, which should result in an additional quantity available for feeding.

The biggest increase in area grown has been field beans with an additional 5,000ha grown.

The decrease in the area of cereals grown can be partially attributed to the Greening rulings introduced last year and also the increased requirement for grassland.

Total grain production is expected to fall by approximately 375,000 tonnes from 2014 levels. It is therefore expected that grain will trade at a higher price than last year. Even accounting for this increase, Irish grain will still represent the best value for money to the livestock sector.

Reasons to choose native Irish cereals include:

• They contain high levels of starch energy

• They are suitable for all categories of livestock

• They are fully traceable

• They improve animal performance and carcase quality

• They improve milk solids

• All grain can be traded farm-to-farm, improving margins for both grower and feeder

• Oats are an excellent digestible fibre source

• Beans can displace expensive, imported protein sources

Treatment and storage options

There are numerous options now available for treating, preserving, enhancing and storing grain. These options provide farmers with a wide range of moisture contents that grain can be harvested/purchased and stored at.

In the majority of cases, the moisture content of the grain will determine the most suitable processing and storage option.

Consideration should also be given to the type of animal that will be fed.

One significant change over recent months has been the introduction of the EU-implemented classification, labelling and packaging legislation for chemical mixtures, including organic acids used in grain preservation.

These products, for example propionic acid and caustic soda, are now labelled as corrosive and need a special transport and storage licence, known as an ADR.

This may have an impact on livestock farmers/ non-contractors who now require a licence in order to use these products.

However, new generation, compliant organic acids are now available and fall outside the requirements for an ADR licence.


With forage in ample supply and maize crops grown under plastic looking exceptionally good, the need to produce a secondary forage in the form of cereal wholecrop will be reduced in most cases.

It will make more sense to save the grain and straw separately where forage is already abundant.

All cereals are suitable for wholecropping with the two main forms being fermented wholecrop and high dry matter wholecrop.

Fermented wholecrop is harvested at a crop dry matter of 35pc to 45pc, while the grain is at the 'milky' or 'soft cheese' stage. A range of additives are available to prevent secondary fermentation at the time of feed-out.

While providing a high energy forage, fermented wholecrop has a pH similar to that of grass silage and is low in protein content.

Where the cereal crop is under-sown with grass, fermented wholecrop is the preferred option, removing the cereal crop at the earliest stage possible so as to allow the grass crop to develop.

High dry matter wholecrop is harvested once the crop reaches full maturity.

The dry matter will be between 75-85pc at this stage and care must be taken to ensure all grain is cracked or milled during the harvesting process.

An alkaline additive should be applied during ensiling, which will enhance the feed value by increasing the protein and pH values.


When grain is harvested at a 'hard cheese' stage, two weeks prior to the main harvest the most suitable treatment method is crimping.

The grain is mechanically 'pinched' or 'crimped' at moistures between 27pc to 35pc.

A suitable additive should be applied to aid fermentation. The clamp must be consolidated, well sheeted and protected from birds and vermin.

The crop will stabilise at a pH of 4 to 4.5 after three to four weeks and will have a storage period of up to six months.

This treatment method allows for high feed rates once correctly balanced.

Alkaline treatment

This treatment method is carried out on mature grain at moisture levels of 16pc to 22pc.

Grain can be treated whole or lightly cracked with an appropriate additive and covered for a minimum of two weeks.

During this period grain protein levels are enhanced by 4pc to 5pc and the pH rises to 8 or 9.

This increased pH allows the grain to be fed at higher rates. Treated grain can be stored for up to 12 months

Acid treatment

This has been the most common and reliable on-farm grain preservative used in recent years, with propionic acids treating grain at moistures of 16pc to 25pc.

However, given the new ADR licence requirements the use of these acids will be restricted on-farm.

As with alkaline grain, grain can be treated whole or cracked. The higher the grain moisture the higher the rate of additive used.

The application rate will also determine the length of the storage period.

Care should be taken when feeding high rates so as to avoid acid loading of the rumen.

Dry rolled grain

Grain is held at a moisture of 14pc to 16pc by drying or aerating. This method is commonly practiced during excellent harvest conditions.

Whole grain can be stored using this method, eliminating the need for any preservative.

Where grain is harvested above 17pc moisture, the cost of drying and associated weight loss militates against this storage option.

If purchasing rolled grain throughout the winter period, it is most likely to have been stored in this manner.

Care should be taken not to excessively roll this drier grain as it will induce acidosis, particularly where wheat is being fed.

Cooked/toasted cereal

Specialist equipment is used by a number of grain and feed merchants to cook conventionally harvested cereals to a moisture of 12pc.

This allows the grain to be stored and fed in a very safe manner.

The quality of the end product is enhanced due to the fact that the grain is screened prior to cooking. Higher levels of all grains can be fed using this system.

Homegrown mixes

Using homegrown or locally purchased grain as the basis of winter rations has become increasingly popular.

These mixes can be very simple and will increase performance where correctly fed and balanced.

The opportunity to significantly reduce feed costs is also present. Grain feed rates will depend on grain type and the treatment method used.

For example, dry rolled wheat must be restricted to 20pc of a total meal mix for a finishing animal while toasted wheat can be included at 50pc and alkaline wheat at up to 70pc of the mix.


The increased area of oats grown this year is partially due to an increased demand for porridge oats but the main increase is in the area of feed oats grown.

Oats can be included at up to 20pc of most meal mixes.

Due to the increase in the area of beans grown there will be a greater amount available for feeding this winter.

When using beans, the challenges are to store them correctly and to build them into the overall ration in order to utilise them correctly.

As with cereals grains, all the same storage and treatment options apply however dry rolling beans can pose significant challenges.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

Indo Farming


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