Cereal as a Wholecrop
Growing cereals for the production of either wholecrop forage or concentrate feed, such as crimp, is increasing rapidly. This is due to the flexibility of the crop and the breakthrough in inoculants technology that allows this aerobically unstable product to be clamped or baled successfully. This gives the widest possible harvest window and much needed security. It enables farmers to provide an increasing proportion of their feed requirements for milk and meat systems from home grown sources, which, in turn, provide an opportunity to reduce costs, improve profitability and develop a policy of complete traceability.
It is now possible to take a field of cereals, whether it be wheat, barley or oats and harvest it in 4 different ways to produce 4 different types of feed with different nutritional characteristics:
1. FERMENTATED WHOLECROP – a high energy forage with lots of ‘scratch factor’ and slow fermenting starch. This is the ‘healthy option’ for livestock, as stimulations of the rumen prevents the development of acidosis and increases yield.
2. FERMENTED MILLED WHOLECROP – a high dry matter, high energy forage with more limited ‘scratch factor’ and reduced levels of bypass starch. The starch is more fermentable and requires careful feed planning to avoid the risk of acidosis. Use this option if the traditional wholecrop window is missed or high starch is required.
3. CRIMP – a high energy, moist concentrated with most of the starch rumen fermentable at a slower rate. This is the ideal replacement for combined grain and improves DM yield whole reducing acidosis risk.
4. TRADITIONAL COMBINE GRAIN – a high energy concentrate which must be mechanically processed (rolled, bruised) in order to allow digestion by cattle. This starch is highly fermentable and must be of live yeast.
WHAT TO GROW – choosing a cereal crop
WHEAT – High yielding forage with high levels of energy, starch and effective fibre. There are winters and spring varieties available. Wheat requires a reasonably high level of management with a good herbicide and fungicide programme to achieve yields. Wheat is a deep rooted plant that grows well on heavy soils or where soil fertility is high. An average forage yield of 10 – 14 tonnes/acre (fresh weight) can be expected.
BARLEY – High yield forage with good levels of energy, starch and effective fibre. There is winter and spring varieties available. Barley also requires reasonably high levels of management with a good herbicide and fungicide programme to achieve yields. It grows well on most soil types including chalk and limestone soils. Barley can be prone to lodging on very fertile or organics soils. An average forage yield of 8 – 12 tonnes/acre (fresh weight) can be expected.
OATS – High yielding forage with moderate levels of energy, starch and high levels of effective fibre. There is winter and spring varieties available. Oats require lower levels of management. Fungicide and herbicide inputs are lower and it is a true break for take-all. It grows well on most soil types and can withstand acid conditions and performs well in cooler wetter areas. An average forage yield of 10-15 tonnes/acre (fresh weight) can be expected.
- High dry matter forage
- High levels of energy and starch
- High yield in most areas
Wholecrop cereals have become increasingly popular in many winter diets. The rapid expansion in the use of wholecrop is due to the nutritional, agronomic and environmental benefits that this versatiles crop provides. Wholecrop is a good alternative forage in marginal maize growing areas and a useful complementary forage for grass and maize systems.
The maximum benefits of fermented wholecrop will be realised if good management is observed during the harvesting and, more importantly, ensiling period. The target dry matter for fermented wholecrop cereals is around 35 – 45%.
At this stage there should be starch in the grain, but the crop should still be moist enough to consolidate effectively. Wholecrop silage is relatively easy to preserve, however, is higher starch and sugar content mean that it is vulnerable to aerobic spoilage (heating).
- Good complement to high protein grass and low fibre maize
- Cost effective forage (different crops available)
- Wide harvest window
- Specialist equipment sometimes required
- Alternative uses, cash crop
- Poor knowledge of harvesting and feeding