How should I start feeding barley to my cattle?
Cows and cattle that haven’t been fed any other sources of starch (grains, cereal silage) in the past three days need to be gradually adapted to barley. The rumen takes around 10 to 14 days to develop the right types of microbes to fully digest starch. Rates should typically start at no more than 1.0 kg of barley per cow per day and increase by a further 0.5 kg per cow per day every three days to allow plenty of rumen-adaptation time. The actual rate of step-up to your final daily feeding rate does depend on what else is in the diet and pasture quality.
If you stop feeding barley to cattle for more than 72 hours, the rumen loses its ability to digest starch. When you start back onto barley feeding you should re-start the rumen adaptation process again, especially if you intend to feed more than 2 kg of grain per cow per day.
If lactating cows are to be fed grain, grain should be introduced to springers and also fed to colostrums. For example, increase feeding rates from 1 to 1.5 kg of barley for springers, 2 to 2.5 kg for colostrums and the final rate of e.g. 3 to 4 kg per cow per day to the milkers. This allows time to adjust to grain as cows calve.
How much barley should I feed to my cattle?
There are no minimum amounts (but for lactating cattle benefits start to be noticed at more than 2.0 kg per cow per day.) Smaller amounts can be useful to encourage cow flow through the dairy.
The upper limits of feeding does depend on what other feeds are offered. If there is only high quality pasture in the diet, typical safe upper limits of barley may be only 4 kg per cow per day fed as 2 kg twice daily to avoid nutritional imbalances and poor animal performance. If the diet also contains silage, hay and / or cereal straw, more than 4 kg of barley per cow per day is possible. High rates of barley or combinations of starchy feeds sometimes increase risk of rumen acidosis in cattle.
Do I need to process barley for feeding to cattle?
Yes, cattle will lose a high proportion of barley in the dung if it is not cracked. Whole grain is often fed to sheep because sheep chew grain more thoroughly than cattle
Can I feed out barley in open troughs to cattle?
No, potentially dominant cattle may over consume on barley and may get rumen acidosis (grain overload). Barley should ideally be fed through in-shed feeding systems, mixed with silage, or fed out on top of silage over a reasonable distance so that all cattle can access the barley at the same time.
Will feeding barley to my cattle make them protein deficient?
Provided the barley is balanced with a high proportion of pasture and / or good quality lucerne, pasture silage or other high protein supplement, your cattle are unlikely to become protein deficient when fed barley.
What additives should I feed with my barley?
Barley contains low levels of calcium, sodium and magnesium. Limeflour (calcium), salt or sodium bicarbonate (sodium) and magnesium oxide (magnesium) are often needed to balance the diet. Talk to your nutritionist or vet for actual rates suited to your cattle. Don’t add calcium or sodium to grain for springer dairy cows.
Other additives including Rumensin, sodium bicarbonate and magnesium oxide can sometimes help reduce the risk of rumen acidosis when cattle are fed barley.
Can I feed barley to my calves?
Yes, but while barley is a good base for a home-made meal for calves still on milk, however barley alone does not deliver enough protein, fibre, sodium or calcium. Post-weaned calves can sometimes be fed barley to supplement their high quality pasture, but barley should be blended with lime-flour and salt as minimum additives for this purpose.