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.

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Feeding wheat

The high starch and low fibre content of wheat grain means it is very rapidly broken down in the rumen, so digestive upsets and acidosis can occur if too much is fed and/or too little long fibre is offered. However, the high energy content means that good growth rates can be achieved and it is excellent for finishing stock, when fed correctly.

When fed moist, supplementation with vitamin E and selenium is essential, as both are reduced in wet grain, due to fermentation and the oxidation process.

Inclusion of wheat grain in the diet

Wheat grain should generally be limited to 50% of the total DM of supplementary feed, although crimped grain can usually be fed at slightly higher rates.

Wheat can be included in rations fed to appetite (ad lib or in a total mixed ration) to rapidly growing animals. However, its inclusion should be limited to 50% of daily DM intake with rolled barley, or 60% where it is fed alongside a high-digestible-fibre feed, such as rolled oats, sugar-beet pulp or soya hulls.

Processing into fine particles should be avoided and light rolling is preferable to grinding. Provide long fibre in the form of cereal straw, aiming for an intake of up to 2 kg/head/day depending on liveweight.

Do not rely on cattle consuming enough bedding; have straw available in feeders.

It is always advisable to seek the advice of a ruminant nutritionist when formulating rations.

Table 2. Average nutrient composition of dry wheat grain (% in DM or MJ/kg DM for ME)

86 13.8 12.8 14 2
Starch Sugars Ca P Mg
69 3.5 0.04 0.35 0.11

Growing Wheat


Grows best on fertile, well-drained clay and loam.


Typical winter wheat yield is 10.4 t/ha, spring wheat is 7.5 t/ha.


Specialist varieties are available, according to target market and sowing season. Group 4 varieties are the feed types. See ahdb.org.uk for recommended varieties.

Sowing time

Optimum sowing dates generally range from September to November, and late autumn through to April.


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

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, root and stem fungal diseases. See AHDB Virus management in cereals and oilseed rape.

Useful links

Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)

Encyclopaedia of pests and natural enemies

Virus management in cereals and oilseed rape