Feeding cereal grains to livestock: maize

In the UK, maize is generally harvested as the whole plant, chopped and made into silage. However, in the southern counties of England, increasingly it is being grown for grain.

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Feeding maize

Maize is high in energy and starch. Fibre and protein levels are low and it is deficient in minerals.

Maize grain contains relatively high levels of bypass starch (rumen undegradable), which is digested further down the digestive tract than other cereals. This means it works well in a mixed cereal diet.

Table 6a. Average nutrient composition of maize grain (% in DM or MJ/kg DM for ME)

65–86 13.8–14.5 8–10 12.1 4.3
Starch Sugars Ca P
65–74 2 0.01 0.30

Maize silage is a high-energy forage, with good levels of starch. It has good intake characteristics, is high in digestible fibre and increases overall forage intake when mixed with other forages such as grass silage.

Table 6b. Average nutrient composition of maize silage (% in DM or MJ/kg DM for ME)

25–35 10.8–11.7 8–9 40–55 2.9
Starch Sugars Ca P
25–35 0.5 0.4 0.20

Growing maize


Suited to fertile soils in lowland areas. Can be sown under plastic on sites where reaching crop maturity may be difficult. Will not tolerate compacted soils. Medium-textured soils are best.


Grain yield can be 7.5 t/ha. DM yield of wholecrop can be 17 t/ha.


Variety choice is a compromise between DM content, yield, feed quality and resistance to lodging. See the descriptive lists for favourable and less favourable sites at herbagevarietiesguide.co.uk.

Sowing time

Maize is a tropical plant and, therefore, vulnerable to frost damage. Sow after 15 April, when soil temperatures reach 8°C for five consecutive days (or 6°C under plastic).


Carry out routine soil tests 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

Maize is not competitive when young. Weed control during the first six weeks post-drilling is critical.

Pest control

Wireworms, leatherjackets, fruit fly, slugs and birds are the main potential problems.


Look out for maize eyespot and fusarium mould.

Useful links

Growing and feeding maize silage for Better Returns

Herbage Varieties Guide

Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)