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Corn Silage, Barley Are Excellent Feeds for Growing Calves

With many North Dakota cornfields unlikely to mature this year, there’s an opportunity to harvest significant amounts of silage

With many North Dakota cornfields unlikely to mature this year, there’s an opportunity to harvest significant amounts of silage for animal feed, says Vern Anderson, North Dakota State University animal scientist at the Carrington Research Extension Center (CREC).

Meanwhile, the barley crop is excellent in most areas of North Dakota this year, which means an abundant supply and depressed prices, so it, too, will be available for animal feed. "These feeds available in volume at competitive prices offer cattlemen an inexpensive option to feed weaned calves or possibly add pounds to cull cows before market," Anderson says.

A rule of thumb is that one bushel of barley is worth about 85% of a bushel of corn because it contains less energy but more protein. On a weight basis, the value is equal. Corn silage contains 70% energy, which is somewhat lower than barley, but considerably more than dry hay.

Studies at CREC have explored combinations of barley and corn silage for weaned calves with the ration including some additional protein and supplements.

"Calf growth was generally very good and the mixed diet was easy to feed, with no digestive upsets or calf losses," Anderson says.

Barley can be fed at 3-5 lbs./head/day for a slower growth rate for replacement heifers or increased to 6-8 lbs. for faster gains for steers.

Barley was fed at up to 12-14 lbs./day in the studies as the calves moved on to finishing diets. In all these diets, corn silage was the primary forage and calves were fed as much as they wanted to eat.

Small amounts of chopped hay may be included in a barley-corn diet, Anderson says. However, alfalfa should not be fed in barley-based diets unless corn silage makes up 35% or more of the diet.

The lowest cost and most nutritionally appropriate protein in this diet would be from distillers grains (DG). Barley provides rumen-degradable protein to keep the microbes functioning well. DG, either wet or dry, provide rumen undegradable or bypass protein required for optimum growth in beef cattle today.

"These three ingredients can support excellent growth and efficiency up to market weight by varying the proportions to increase nutrient density of the diet," Anderson says.

Supplements he recommends for this combination of feeds include a mineral package with extra calcium, vitamins and an ionophore for conventionally produced calves.

Barley should be rolled but not ground when fed at more than 4 lbs./day. Grinding is acceptable at lower levels, but mixing with silage, hay, protein and supplements is recommended.

Producers should be aware that insurance companies need to release the fields prior to chopping corn for silage, Anderson says.

Some commercial silage choppers are available, but producers already may be too late to schedule them.

Beef producers can store silage in bunkers or piles. When ensiled correctly, silage should store for up to two years with minimum spoilage.
-- NDSU Agriculture Communication