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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Rye, barley, and wheat can make excellent quality silage

Dairy Pipeline: April 1997

by Charles C. Stallings
Extension Dairy Scientist, Nutrition
Virginia Tech

The small grains, if harvested at the proper stage of development, can make a suitable feed for dairy cattle. Rye must be harvested in the boot or vegetative state before seed head development. That means wilting to 30 to 40% dry matter before ensiling. Barley and wheat, however, can be harvested at the soft dough stage. Harvesting at soft dough allows for direct cutting without wilting, a benefit during wet spring weather. In a study we conducted with barley harvested for silage, we found that yields of dry matter were less than half when harvested as boot compared to soft dough. Protein percent, however, was 16.6 for boot and 9.1 for soft dough. Acid detergent fiber was similar at 31.1 and 33.9% respectively. Therefore, if barley or wheat is harvested at boot stage expect a significant reduction in dry matter yield relative to soft dough but increased protein concentration and similar energy. Harvesting at boot stage does allow earlier harvest, one month in the case of the study described, and does present in some cases the potential for double cropping with corn. If feeding to lactating dairy cows it is best to feed small grain silage along with corn silage. Corn silage is normally higher in energy and helps prevent the decrease in milk encountered when going from one forage to another. Dry cows and replacements can receive small grain silage as the only forage without problem.

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