Feeding cereal grains to livestock – the options
When feeding cereal grains to livestock, other ration components, feed requirements, nutritional balance and physical structure of the ration must be considered. Our guide to cereal grain options for cattle and sheep feed can help you make informed decisions about what’s best for your system.
Selecting the best cereal grains for your system
Cereals can be fed as a supplement to forage to provide mainly energy and starch, or as the basis of an ‘intensive’ ad-lib system, alongside a source of long fibre such as cereal straw. If fed separately, care should be taken not to overfeed cereals at any one time, to avoid digestive upsets, which can reduce intake and animal performance. Where large amounts of cereals are fed, they should be offered as multiple feeds spread throughout the day. No more than the following amounts should be fed at one feed:
- 2.5 kg/head for cattle over 400 kg liveweight
- 2 kg/head for cattle over 250 kg liveweight
- 1.5 kg/head for cattle up to 250 kg liveweight
- 0.5 kg/head for sheep
A balanced diet
It is also important that feeds are nutritionally balanced with the right level and quality of protein and minerals, dependent on age, type, breed and required performance of the livestock. If in doubt, consult a ruminant nutritionist. In general, cereal grains have high energy and starch content, modest protein and low fibre levels. They are deficient in certain minerals, especially calcium (Ca), and vitamins A, D and E. Maize is also very low in all trace elements.
Cereal grains should not be fed alone. Always provide a source of long structural fibre as well. Consider the other ration components carefully, the feed requirements of the type of livestock and the overall nutrient balance and physical structure of the ration.
Where cereals are fed separately in restricted amounts to the base forage or main ration, there must be enough trough space for all cattle to access it together, easily and without stress.
When feeding ad-lib cereals or a high cereal total mixed ration (TMR) diet, ensure that fresh feed is always available. Be aware that sheep are able to sort out whole grains in a TMR.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: moist vs dry grain
Understand the differences between harvest timing, additives, storage and feeding requirements of moist and dry grains.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: wholecrop silage
Wholecrop cereal silage is made by harvesting the whole plant and storing it anaerobically. It can be made from a wide range of cereals, clamped, baled and wrapped or conserved in a plastic tube. This page highlights the differences.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: barley
Barley is a palatable 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.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: wheat
Wheat is a high-yielding, palatable cereal grain, with high levels of energy and starch. It is low in digestible fibre, but its protein level, although modest, is higher than other cereals. Levels of calcium and vitamins A, D and E are also low.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: oats
Oats contain more fibre than other cereals but are lower in energy and protein. They are low in calcium and vitamins A, D and E.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: triticale
Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye. It is a good alternative to wheat, with higher protein levels and lower input costs. Generally, it has a higher nutritional value than barley but is lower in fibre.
Feeding cereal grains to livestock: winter rye
Winter rye is suitable for grain or as an early forage crop. Rye sown in the autumn is drought-tolerant and very hardy. It can withstand low temperatures and starts growing early in the spring.
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.