Producers seeking a flexible, high feed value forage crop to sow this year should take a close look at whole-crop spring barley.

Whole-crop works well in any situation, reckons Keenan nutritionist Mark Voss.

“With its high starch and fibre content it complements high protein autumn grass well, particularly when producers end up with a pit of rocket fuel silage, as it opens up the ration’s fibre content.”

Furthermore, it is ideal for the dry cow ration because of its lack of antagonistic minerals, such as potassium and sodium, so is an ideal replacement for grass silage and helps eliminate milk fever, he adds.

Trial work carried out by NIAB also suggests that that whole-crop spring barley could prove worthwhile this year.

For two consecutive years feed spring barley has produced silage with highest D values when harvested compared with spring varieties of wheat, triticale and oats grown for whole-crop silage and gave the highest mean energy yield a hectare at similar dry matter contents, says NIAB’s forage crops manager Don Pendergrast.

Furthermore, both years showed differences in performance of spring barley varieties, namely Waggon, which produced a metabolisable energy value of 183,000J/ha when harvested for fermented whole-crop.

Mr Pendergrast says these are similar values to maize silage, so could fit in well with mixed farm rations.

Other advantages include lower growing costs compared with winter cereals coupled with the ability to establish a grass crop under it, he adds.

“As well as producing high ME and D values, Waggon also produced the highest ME and D values when ensiled at the higher dry matter stage used for urea treated silage.”

Where spring barley is concerned Mr Voss adds that its starch content is also safer on the cow’s rumen in terms of speed of fermentation compared with wheat whole-crop.

One of the biggest advantages of sowing spring barley is that you have the decision of growing it for grain or harvesting, depending on summer conditions, says seeds specialist David Bright.

But he warns cutting it at the correct time can sometimes prove problematic.

“It is better to cut a few days early when you think it is not ready rather than leave it until it has gone too far.”

And, with an earlier cut, digestibility is likely to be in the mid 30s, adds Mr Voss.

chrissie.lawrence@rbi.co.uk