Grain is proving to be a cereal thriller
Here's how to best store this native crop which continues to be excellent value for money
The 2014 grain harvest has now started and the option of storing grain for use over the winter should now be considered. The recent IFA harvest estimates for 2014 indicate that there is a total of 2.1m tonnes of grain available.
Of that total, approximately 600,000 tonnes of wheat is available, 1.4 million tonnes of barley and 100,000 tonnes of oats. Harvested winter barley has been of the highest quality and every indication is that spring crops will be the same.
The use of native Irish grain in both growing and finishing diets throughout the country should be first priority, as they currently represent excellent value for money.
The most important factors to consider when purchasing grain are the quality and moisture content. Irish grain is generally of a consistent high quality.
However, moisture contents will vary greatly and will determine price and which storage/preservation methods are to be employed.
There are four main methods of grain storage. These methods will also determine the feeding method of the grain.
Traditionally grain was dried or stored on air at moistures of 18pc or lower. This method is still widely used with the grain rolled or crushed as required throughout the winter.
If being stored on farm, there will be an obvious loss of weight due to moisture loss during storage. It is therefore important to take this into account in determining the final feeding cost of the grain.
There are limits on the amount of this grain that can be fed, as high feed rates can result in acidosis.
This method of preservation became popular in the late 90s. Grain is harvested at high moistures (30pc +). An appropriate additive is then applied while the grain is being crimped. These additives fall into two categories, inoculants or acids.
The preservation process is similar to that of grass silage production. Sugar in the grain is converted to acid by anaerobic activity. Inoculants and acids are used to speed up and improve this process. The pH of the clamp is lowered, thus preserving the grain.
However, this acidic pH works against the principles of stabilising the animal's rumen pH. In all cases, supplementary buffering of the rumen will be required. It can be stored inside or outside with it being important that grain is well compacted in layers while filling the clamp.
Crimp grain can be attractive to birds and rodents and this should be considered when choosing a location for storage. The window of opportunity to harvest grain at the correct moisture for this process is quite narrow. In a lot cases, grain will now be too mature to consider this option.
This method involves applying organic acids (most commonly propionic acid) to the grain immediately after harvest. This method is quite popular within the merchant trade, with grains of various moisture contents treated.
Grain moistures range between 17pc and 22pc at harvest. The grain is generally rolled as required throughout the winter.
The lowering of the pH through the acid application inhibits microbial activity in the grain. Organic acids are corrosive and care is needed when handling. Safety instructions, as issued by the manufacturer, must be followed.
As the product is acidic in nature, its feed usage is limited to 4-5kg on mature animals, especially where it is fed along with low pH silages.
Of the main methods of storage, the alkaline storage method is the most recent development. Grain is harvested at between 16pc and 24pc moisture. The additives used combine with moisture in the grain to form ammonia gas.
This reaction stabilises and preserves the grain, while it also raises the pH to between 8.5 and 9.5, through the production of Ammonium bicarbonate. The grain is initially covered to allow the preservation process to take place. There is also a significant increase in the protein content of the grain (between 4pc and 5pc). The higher pH allows for higher feed rates than any of the other methods. This grain is less likely to be attacked by birds or rodents due to its alkaline nature.
Irrespective of the storage method chosen and type of livestock being fed, grain currently represents fantastic value for money. Given the current prices, every effort should be made to maximise its use as a primary energy source in all rations.
Our Story: 'System gives us the max'
Jim and Liam Delaney
Derrygarran, Portlaoise, Co Laois
Jim and Liam run a suckler to beef and tillage enterprise on 90ha farm on the outskirts of Portlaoise.
Liam will be familiar to a lot of people for his appearance in the McDonald's television advertisement, promoting their use of quality Irish beef. Their herd consists of 80 cows with calving split between 50 cows calving in September and 30 in January-February. The split calving pattern allows Jim and Liam spread their workload.
As well as their suckler beef herd, 70ac of barley is grown, with 100 tonnes of this barley fulfilling a malting contract.
All progeny is kept on the farm for finishing, with 15-20 additional animals also purchased. Bulls are finished at under 16 months of age, while heifers are finished at 18 months old. Recently slaughtered bulls achieved daily live weight gains of 1.8kg during their finishing period and 1.2kg from birth. The average dead weight was 399kg for bulls and 342kg for heifers. All bulls achieved grades of U and E with fat scores of 2+ and 3-.
Jim and Liam utilise all their home-grown feed barley and have used the Maxammon grain preservation method for the past three years. Using this system has allowed them to eliminate the need for purchasing a protein source, with last year's barley analysed as having a protein content of 16.1pc.
The high pH content (9.2) allows for greater quantities of grain to be fed safely to all animals, with bulls being fed ad-lib during their finishing period. Along with his busy schedule on the farm, Liam also contract rolls and treats grain for neighbouring farmers using the Maxammon system.
Buying local gives me great reassurance
PJ Boylan, Inniskeen, Co Monaghan
PJ runs a 60-cow dairy herd on a 42ha farm, with a grazing platform of 23ha. Calving is split 60:40 between spring and autumn, with autumn calving beginning in September and finishing in November.
Spring calving takes place from February until early April. PJ plans to expand his herd to 80 cows post quota. The current herd average is 8,000 litres with a butterfat of 4.08pc and protein of 3.35pc. PJ also fattens all bulls born on the farm, aiming to have them slaughtered at less than 16 months of age.
As it is an all grass farm there is no second forage available for feeding through his total mixed ration. Protein in the diet is supplied by a soya-based blend, while locally grown cereal, comprising of barley and oats, is purchased to supply the energy requirements.
This cereal is supplied on an ongoing basis throughout the year from a local cereal farmer. The grain is dry rolled and ready for feeding when delivered. Buying grain locally ensures costs are kept to a minimum. The high quality grain starch ensures that solids, particularly milk proteins, are maintained at a high level. The bulls are fed on an ad-lib system when on their finishing diet. Bull performance and carcass quality are very good due to the high levels of grain.
The grain supplies the necessary starch energy levels to meets the animal's requirements for live weight performance and the laying of fat cover (particularly important for Holstein bulls). Overall, PJ sees the use of local grain gives him great reassurance of feed quality.
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