16 August 2002

Seek advice & stay simple, home mill-and-mixers told

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

LOW priced cereals seem a cost-effective option for the winter, but many producers are wary of warnings about the risks of feeding too much starch.

In July, Wales-based senior ADAS nutritionist Ken Stebbings started receiving inquiries from milk producers wanting to exploit wheat which might be coming off the combine at about £60/t. He also expects a large number of beef and sheep producers will decide to home-mix some of their concentrates.

"Feeding nuts is more convenient when sheep are outside, but there are ways of using a cereal-based mix."

Producers wanting to try home-mixing would need storage space, but they did not have to invest in machinery. Mobile mill and mix units could do the job for £15 to £18/t or mixer wagons could be hired through machinery rings. He advises would-be farm compounders to seek advice and keep it simple.

It was possible to feed up to 10kg of cereal DM/head/day to dairy cows without rumen upsets. Historical advice to strictly limit wheat use was based on the fact that at one time most of the wheat offered had been rejected by millers and contained high gluten levels, he explains.

"Feed wheat does not become chewing gum in the rumen and is a better bet, even if barley costs £5/t less, which is why compounders use so much of it."

Cutting cereals early, with high moisture content, could increase final total dry matter production by about 10% and allow cultivations to start sooner. But the moist grain had to be treated before being stored.

Mr Stebbings was aware of claims made about the digestive benefits of feeding caustic and urea treated grains, but warns that such treatments dont change the 10kg upper safety limit on the inclusion of cereals.

Deciding what to mix with cereals depends on the class of livestock and what else was available on the market. Sugar beet pulp can increase the amount of digestible fibre in rations, but producers must decide whether paying more for energy which can be supplied by rolled cereals is justified.

Protein is expensive and he favous using a 50:50 mixture of rapeseed meal and soya. This would have an metabolisable energy of about 12.8MJ/kg and 44% of a blend of rumen degradable and undegradable protein. "Rape seed costs about £40/t less than soya and is a good way of reducing ration costs."

When home-mixing for dairy cows it was important to counter the low calcium content of cereals and adding some sugar beet pulp could do this, he says. &#42

Mr Stebbings. When maize gluten was available at the right price its inclusion provided extra phosphorus.

CHEAP CEREALS

* Feed wheat preferable.

* Consider home-mixing.

* Balance carefully.