Farm Ireland

Thursday 13 December 2018

Why barley is the best performing feed for finishing dairy cattle

Eoghan MacConnell

Barley remains the best performing feed for finishing dairy beef cattle, according to experiments conducted at Teagasc Grange that have shown that contrary to common opinion, the inclusion maize meal feed is producing leaner bull carcasses at superior weights.

Dr Mark McGee is researching the effects of different feed ingredients on growing and finishing cattle ahead of the publication of new revised feed tables in the spring. He explained that even in situations where there is a lot of grass in the system like in Grange, where concentrate accounts for just eight percent of feed, over half of costs are associated with the indoor winter period.

For the purpose of the experiment, citrus pulp, soya hulls, distillers grains, palm kernel, corn gluten and maize grain were all compared to a control feed comprising of rolled barley (86pc), soya bean meal (6pc), molasses (5pc) and minerals and vitamins (2.5pc).

The feed types, many of them byproducts of food production, were selected because they are imported in such large volumes, somewhere in the order of a quarter of a million to a half million tons, said Dr McGee.  A series of tests examined the effects of replacing rolled barley with the different feed ingredients to record their performance of suckler bred beef cattle.

Ultimately, Dr McGee found the rolled barley soya based control remains the standard that everything else is ranked to. “The bad news is there is no single value for a feed. The energy value depends on the feeding circumstances. There is no simple take home message,” he told the Teagasc National Beef conference in Tullamore, Co Offaly on Tuesday evening.

Citrus pulp was found to have a comparable feeding value to rolled barley at inclusion levels of up to 40pc when offered as a supplement to grass silage. Soya hulls had an equivalent feeding value to rolled barley in inclusion of up to 20pc as a supplement to grass silage.

Palm kernel has a comparable feeding value to rolled barley at inclusion levels of up to 40pc when offered as a supplement.

When corn gluten feed was tested on finishing cattle it was found there was no significant difference, so corn gluten feed was comparable to rolled barley when included at up to 75pc in a concentrate supplement to grass silage.  With distillers grains, the feeding value of maize distillers was found to be superior to wheat distillers, around 11pc higher.

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The optimum inclusion in the concentrate was up to 80pc for maize and wheat grains when offered as a supplement to silage. However, Dr McGee said the protein level is far too high and was only used for experimental purposes.

The findings in relation to maize are probably “the opposite of what people say is happening out there,” said Dr McGee. 

“We found a tendency for leaner carcasses with maize inclusion in the diet, rather than fatness. When we looked at the ribs joint proportion the numbers reflect the same trend,” he explained.

“Bulls offered maize meal but not flaked maize have superior carcass weight and feed efficiency compared to barley. However, maize inclusion in the concentrate did not enhance fat deposition. We have a number of other experiments carried out recently essentially confirming this response in relation to carcass fatness,” he added.

Following his presentation, Dr McGee was asked whether to compare home grown and imported feeds. 

“The results here are suggesting that a barely based ration is favourable, so whether it is homegrown or imported barely is relatively similar. What we have to bear in mind is the dry matter content. Typically the dry matter content of home grown is a good bit lower than imported so we must adjust for that. There is no point in paying for water. All else being equal, the data here is suggesting that cereals are the benchmark feed,” he said.

Dr McGee said the experiments show there is an opportunity to use cost effective feed ingredients as supplements to grass silage. 

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