Farm Ireland

Sunday 22 April 2018

Plan early to beat feed-price woes

Gerry Giggins

The uncertainty in the international grain markets due to droughts and floods in the main grain regions will undoubtedly drive up all grain and feed costs this autumn. Protein prices in particular have the potential to spike at all kinds of record highs this year.

In addition, recent poor weather twinned with high fuel costs for drying will add extra expense to Irish-grown grain.

The most logical way of dealing with this extra cost is by treating and storing home-grown cereals off the combine. With new grain treatment and storage systems being developed, there is now the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of the protein element of the winter ration. Alki-grain is one of the processes that has been gaining popularity due to the fact that it increases the final protein content of the grain by 4-5pc.

The value of the protein rise is estimated to be €45-50/t at current protein costs. It also increases the pH of the grain, which significantly enhances the finished diet of the animal.

This treatment process should not be confused with the urea treatment process advocated in Ireland about 10 years ago. It increased the protein content of the grain, but failed to act as an effective storage system. It also failed to enhance the pH of the final product.

Soda-grain treatment, as developed by Keenan's, is a very specialised on-farm process, requiring specific instructions and appropriate equipment. There is a wide window of moistures that grain can be caustic treated at. When the process is completed correctly, grain has the same properties of Alki-grain but without the protein enhancement.

Crimped grain was also developed as a viable option a number of years ago but has had varied results on farm.

Low moisture grain is difficult to ensile and high moisture grain has high moisture losses.

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With low pH (acidic) silage, crimp grain can compound the acid load on the animal. Therefore, caution is urged when purchasing crimp grain.

In addition to not enhancing the feed value of the grain, acid treatment can, in situations where the main forage is wet and where high levels of the treated grain are fed, lead to digestive upsets.

The following guide outlines the treatment and storage options available to the producer and end-user this harvest.

Crimped grain

• Harvest window is narrow during good weather conditions.

• Grain moisture needs to be 25-40pc.

• A narrow pit face to allow good pit-face management is critical.

• It is ready for feeding when the fermented crop stabilises at pH4-4.5.

• It is highly susceptible to attack from birds and vermin.

• Poorly covered pits can result in a minimum of a further 10pc loss.

• Feed rates: dairy up to 4kg, beef up to 7kg.

Soda-grain or caustic treated grain

• Moist or semi-mature grain 20-28pc moisture.

• Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) is mixed with the grain using a diet wagon.

• Best for barley and wheat.

• Caustic soda application rates range from:

-- 3pc for wheat (30kg/t);

-- 5pc for barley (50kg/t).

• This is a high-cost system at €30/t.

• However, it reduces the risk of acidosis because the treated grain is alkaline (+pH9) in nature.

• It stores for up to six months.

• Feed rates: dairy up to 5kg, beef up to 4kg.


• Can be used on wheat, barley, maize and oats.

• Harvest window of 2-3 weeks during a normal harvest.

• Mature grain at 16-25pc moisture.

• The grain is mechanically crimped and an appropriate amount of urea additive is applied.

• It can be fed after two weeks.

• It increases grain protein levels by 4-5pc at the recommended rate.

• An alkaline pH8-9 provides a buffer to improve rumen function.

• It is less likely to be attacked by birds or vermin due to its alkaline nature.

• It stores for up to 12 months, which is one of the key advantages of this system over crimped grain.

• Feed rates: dairy up to 5kg, beef up to 8kg.

Acid Treatment

• Suitable for wheat and barley.

• Treat grain using organic acids, such as propionic acid at moistures ranging from 17-25pc.

• The higher the moisture, the higher the cost of treatment.

• The acids may have a negative effect on grain protein utilisation.

• It may not complement diets with acidic silages.

• It stores for up to six months.

• It cannot be included in meal mixes at the higher end of the moisture range.

• Feed rates: dairy up to 4kg, beef up to 6kg, depending on the pH of the silage.

Dry grain 14-17pc moisture

• Suitable for wheat, oats and barley.

• It is necessary to lower the grain moisture to 14-17pc to prevent heating during storage.

• It may be necessary to aerate during storage.

• Excessively fine rolling may induce acidosis in livestock.

• Storage weight loss can be high at 2-3pc due to moisture loss.

• It can be included in meal mixes.

• Wheat feed rates: dairy can be fed up to 3kg, beef up to 4kg.

• Barley feed rates: dairy up to 4kg, beef up to 6kg.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist and can be contacted at

Indo Farming