Farm Ireland

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Top animal nutritionist baffled as to why are oats so underutilised in ruminant diets

Des Thorpe checking on the organic oats. Photo: Patrick Browne
Des Thorpe checking on the organic oats. Photo: Patrick Browne

Gerry Giggins

Year-on-year I am baffled as to why oats are underutilised in ruminant diets, particularly in beef finishing, store and suckler cow diets.

Down through the years, oats, or corn as it is known in the northern part of the country, have largely only been grown for the breakfast cereal and horse feed markets.

In human nutrition, the benefits of oats are widely recognised, as those of us that have a daily bowl of porridge will recognise.

The same cannot be said in ruminant nutrition where they are constantly overlooked.

Looking at its analysis and nutritional benefits will give you an indication as to why oats should be used in greater quantities.

While it is lower in energy value than wheat or barley, it is significantly higher in unsaturated oil.

Although unsaturated oil levels are not the first thing you look at in a ration ingredient, they can play an important role and help produce good quality fat on finished animals.

Oats have a very husky seed with the fibrous husk weighing up to 25pc of the total seed weight.

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The husk content varies with variety and season, with spring varieties highest in fibre. Prior to feeding they can be rolled to enhance their digestibility.

As a digestible fibre source it ticks all the boxes. So I am constantly bemused by insistence by the feed trade of including imported digestible fibre sources such as soya hulls in a lot of ruminant rations in preference to home-grown oats.

Devotees of feeding oats see a 'magical' effect on all categories of animal feed.

Bulls will have better fat covers and digestive upsets will be greatly reduced even when included at 25-30pc of the concentrate portion of the diet.

The inclusion of oats in the ration of suckling cows will also show benefits in both the calf and cow's performance and health.

The greatest benefit with suckler cows will be evident when it's necessary to feed small quantities of energy prior to calving. Cows, if not over fat, will calve down healthily and the benefits will also pass onto the calves.

Oaten straw is also currently in plentiful supply. It is generally cheaper than wheaten or barley straw due to its unsuitability for mushroom compost.

Traditionally, oaten straw was used only for bedding. However, when used in rations it acts as a perfect long fibre source.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist. Email:

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