Corn silage, barley excellent feeds for growing calves

Aug 28, 2009
by WLJ
Corn silage, barley excellent feeds for growing calves

Many North Dakota cornfields probably will not mature this year, resulting in an opportunity to harvest significant amounts of silage for animal feed, according to a North Dakota State University (NDSU) livestock expert.

The barley crop was excellent in most areas of North Dakota this year, which will result in an abundant supply and depressed prices, so it will also be available for animal feed, says Vern Anderson, an animal scientist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center.

“These feeds available in volume at competitive prices offer cattlemen an inexpensive option to feed weaned calves or possibly add pounds to cull cows before market,” Anderson says. Barley is very competitively priced as a feed versus corn this year. A rule of thumb is that a bushel of barley is worth about 85 percent of a bushel of corn because it contains less energy, but more protein. On a weight basis, the value is equal.

Silage is a very palatable and nutritious forage that works well as an energy source for weaned calves and for wintering beef cows. Corn silage contains 70 percent energy, which is somewhat lower than for barley, but it is considerably more than for any of the dry hay products.

Studies at the Carrington Research Extension Center have explored combinations of barley and corn silage for weaned calves with the ration including some additional protein and supplements.

“Calf growth was generally very good and the mixed diet was easy to feed, with no digestive upsets or calf losses,” Anderson says. Barley can be fed at 3 to 5 pounds per head daily for a slower growth rate for replacement heifers or increased to 6 to 8 pounds for faster gains for steers.

Barley was fed at up to 12 to 14 pounds daily in the studies as the calves moved on to finishing diets. In all these diets, corn silage was the primary forage, and calves were fed as much as they wanted to eat. Small amounts of chopped hay may be included in a barley-corn diet, Anderson says. However, alfalfa should not be fed in the barleybased diets unless corn silage makes up 35 percent or more of the diet. The lowest cost and most nutritionally appropriate protein in this diet would be from distillers grains. Barley provides rumen-degradable protein to keep the microbes functioning well. Distillers grains, either wet or dry, provide rumen undegradable or bypass protein required for optimum growth in beef cattle today.

“These three ingredients can support excellent growth and efficiency up to market weight by varying the proportions to increase nutrient density of the diet,” Anderson says. Supplements he recommends for this combination of feeds include a mineral package with extra calcium, vitamins and an ionophore for conventionally produced calves. Natural-protocol calves should not be fed an ionophore or implanted.

Barley should be rolled but not ground when fed at more than 4 pounds per day, research has found. Grinding is acceptable at lower levels, but mixing with silage, hay, protein and supplements is recommended.

Producers should be aware that insurance companies need to release the fields prior to chopping corn for silage, Anderson says. Some commercial silage choppers are available, but producers may already be too late to schedule them. Beef producers can store silage in bunkers or piles.

When ensiled correctly, silage should store for up to two years with minimum spoilage. — WLJ