June 23, 2011

US specialist recommends care in using wheat as animal feed



Farmers facing the probability of low-quality wheat have the option of incorporating this wheat into livestock diets, but several factors should be considered first, according to Stephen Boyles, an Ohio State University Extension beef specialist.


Boyles said that mould-free wheat can be used to substitute up to 50% of the grain portion of finishing diets for cattle.

"When feeding lower-quality wheat, limit wheat to 40% of dry matter or 50% of corn in the diet, whichever is highest," Boyles explained. "Also, you should take longer to build up to full feed than you would with corn, and carefully monitor consumption. I would not recommend using wheat in high-grain diets on self-feeders or in creep rations. Salt (7-12%) might be used as an intake inhibitor for cattle on grass using a self-feeder."

Boyles added that over-processing the wheat will result in the production of many fine particles that are undesirable, since the rate of wheat starch digestion in the rumen is very rapid. An excessive amount of fine particles will cause generally low and erratic intakes, digestive upsets, and poor performance.

"Rolling rather than grinding generally results in fewer fine particles," Boyles said. "If wheat is dry-rolled, it should be rolled or ground as coarsely as possible while still breaking all the kernels. Steam-flaking wheat can improve animal performance. Mixing grains should occur after grain processing rather than before. Mix wheat with silage, haylage or corn grain to reduce the risk of animals eating too much at one time."

There are a few problems associated with feeding wheat to cattle, Boyles warned. For example, when feeding high-concentrate rations, it is not advisable to change back and forth from wheat to other feed grains. Additionally, since wheat is a fast-fermenting grain in the rumen, there may be problems of depressed feed intake, acidosis, and abscessed livers. Therefore, it is crucial to limit the amount of wheat in the ration, mix it with other grains, and feed animals at least 15% roughage, making sure rations contain approximately 6-10% fibre.

"Buffering agents are added to overcome the problems of reduced feed intake when high-wheat rations are fed to cattle," Boyles said. "Adding 3.5 ounces of sodium bicarbonate per head daily gives a slight improvement in performance of steers on wheat rations. Adding an additional 1-1.3% of finely ground feed-grade limestone to wheat rations may give a slight improvement to performance of cattle. However, avoid increasing the calcium levels of the ration above 0.9%."

As for sprouted wheat, or grain infected by head scab or vomitoxin, Boyles said sprouting does not appear to affect the nutritional value of wheat, but mould and fungal infestations are more likely with sprouted wheat, and feeding mouldy wheat to livestock must be avoided to prevent mycotoxin poisoning.

Meanwhile, the occurrence of scab in wheat does not automatically mean vomitoxin is present, but high levels of scabby kernels in harvested grain may be dangerous.

If moulds or toxins are suspected, the best thing to do is to have the wheat tested.

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