14 April 2000

Urea lifts wheat feed value

By Shelley Wright

UREA-TREATED wheat provides a simple, cheap, versatile feed for cattle, and produces good growth rates.

Scottish Borders farmer James Wauchope decided to try treating home-grown wheat two years ago after visiting SACs Bush Estate near Edinburgh and seeing the work done there by nutritionist Mitch Lewis.

"It all looked good in theory, so we made 100t that first year. And I was pleasantly surprised – the results we got were better than I had expected," says Mr Wauchope.

Such was his enthusiasm that last year 200t was produced, and the aim is to double that again this year.

The system fits well into the arable/livestock mix at Lochtower farm, near Yetholm, where about 450 cattle and 450 Greyface ewes complement the 263ha (650-acre) cereals enterprise.

The land is light and prone to drought, favouring cereals rather than silage. One of Mr Wauchopes aims is to produce as much of the stock fodder as possible on the farm.

He was won over instantly by the simplicity of the urea-treated wheat system. In 1998 he did his own on-farm trial, comparing a group of 25 weaned bullocks on the treated wheat with 5% soya added, with another group fed a conventional barley and soya diet.

Steers on the treated wheat diet averaged a daily liveweight gain of 1.4kg during the five-month trial, compared with 1.22kg a day for those on the conventional diet.

The figures are slightly better than those in SAC trials, where a daily liveweight gain of 1.26kg was achieved from animals fed the urea-treated wheat/soya diet. The SAC results also showed a feed conversion ratio of 5.8kg DM/kg liveweight gain, about the same as was achieved on a barley/soya diet.

SAC cost comparisons, including the cost of urea applied at 53 litres/t, plastic sheeting and labour, show that the cost/t DM of the urea-treated/soya diet works out almost identical to that for a barley/soya ration.

As well as good weight gains, the urea-treated wheat system offers simplicity, says Mr Wauchope.

The wheat is combined early, about 10 days ahead of normal harvest date, and is cut at about 30% moisture, with the advantage of no drying costs. At this stage, the straw, which forms the basis of adult cattle rations, is still green and has better feed value.

"The wheat is carted in to a concrete stand and passed through an auger which pumps in liquid urea at 3% by fresh weight. The crop is then built in a clamp, using wrapped silage bales to form a wall, and sheeted," he says. Unlike crimped grain, there is no need for the clamp to be tightly pressed.

"The liquid urea turns to ammonia gas in the clamp, preserving grain by breaking down the seed coat. The ammonia also keeps rodents away," says Mr Wauchope.

"There is minimal wastage, no effluent and you get a feed with 70% dry matter," he says, adding that palatability seems to be no problem.

Another advantage is the low cost of feeding. "We feed all the housed stock from a single bucket with a side-delivery auger. It cost about £2000, compared with the £15,000 or so that a mixer wagon would cost," he says.

All steers from the 173-head Continental cross suckler cow herd, which are weaned and reared indoors intensively on an ad-lib urea-treated wheat diet, are fed from the front-mounted bucket, driven up the central passage in sheds.

The simple bucket feeder is also used to feed whole-crop wheat to heifers, which are wintered inside then sold as stores in spring, fattened on grass, or kept as replacements.

Iain Riddell, an SAC adviser based at St Boswells, who also manages SACs new Beef and Sheep Select service, says research shows that urea treatment works best on wheat in ad-lib diets supplemented with true protein, generally 5% soya. Ad-lib diets using treated wheat also need to be balanced using a mineral containing at least 2-3% sulphur and no more than 500mg/kg copper.

Urea treatment seems less successful with barley, mainly because the seed coat is too hard. Anyone wanting to urea-treat barley would have to mill grain first, he says.

As well as using home-grown wheat as a stock feed, Mr Wauchope plans to work this year with SAC to see if he can use the urea treatment to preserve home-grown beans instead of relying on bought-in soya as a protein supplement. &#42

UREA TREATED WHEAT

&#8226 Little processing required.

&#8226 Simple clamp management.

&#8226 Easy to feed out to cattle.

&#8226 Low cost, home-grown feed.

SACs Ian Riddell (left) and James Wauchope are both convinced of the benefits of urea-treated wheat.

Urea-treated wheat is fed using a single bucket with side-delivery auger.