Feeding cereal grains to livestock: barley

Barley is a palatable livestock feed with high levels of energy and starch. It is low in fibre and has modest protein levels. Levels of calcium and vitamins A, D and E are low.

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Feeding barley

Barley grain is usually fed as a supplement to forage. However, where the target is for very rapid daily liveweight gain, e.g. in cereal beef systems, barley can be fed to appetite. Introduce gradually over a minimum of 10 days by increments of 0.5 kg/head, every other day. If it is truly fed ad lib, the troughs/hoppers should always be topped up with fresh feed and the ration balanced for protein, minerals and vitamins. When barley is fed to appetite, a source of fibre should be provided in the form of long clean cereal straw, aiming for an intake of around 13% of DM intake (up to 2 kg/head/day), depending on animal liveweight. Do not rely on cattle consuming enough bedding; have straw available in feeders. When cereals are fed moist, supplementation with vitamin E and selenium is essential, as both are reduced in wet grain, due to the fermentation and oxidation process.

Table 1. Average nutrient composition of dry barley grain (% in DM or MJ/kg DM for ME)

86 13.2 12.1 21.1 3.0
Starch Sugars Ca P Mg
59 3.0 0.1 40 0.12

Growing barley


Barley grows well on light soil and good loam. It is sensitive to low pH, requiring a minimum of 6.2.


Typical yield for winter barley is 9.4 t/ha, spring barley is 7.4 t/ha.


Specialist varieties are available according to sowing season. See ahdb.org.uk for recommended varieties.

Sowing time

Optimum sowing dates range from September to October, and late January to the end of March. Spring crops can be susceptible to frost damage.


Carry out routine soil testing every three to four years to check pH, P and K. More information is available in the Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) or consult a FACTS-qualified adviser.

Weed control

Pre-emergence and post-emergence options are available. Consult a BASIS-qualified agronomist for specific recommendations.

Pest control

Pests are predominantly influenced by previous cropping and soil type, e.g. wireworm and leatherjackets may be a problem after a grass ley. See AHDB Encyclopaedia of pests and natural enemies in field crops.


Plan to avoid or control aphid-transmitted viruses and foliar fungal diseases. See AHDB Controlling aphids and virus diseases in cereals and oilseed rape.

Useful links

Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)

Encyclopaedia of pests and natural enemies

Virus management in cereals and oilseed rape