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A Comparison of Selected Forage Type Cereal Crops for Forage Yield & Quality

Updated: May 25, 2023

Research Coordinator: Dr. Akim Omokanye

Location: Fairview Research Farm (NW-5-82-03-W6)

From: Peace Country Beef & Forage Association 2013 Annual Report

Cereal crops can be successfully used as a source of quality forage for beef cattle. The most common cereals used for forage are oats, barley and spring triticale. Various studies by researchers at Lacombe have recognized the potential of triticale in beef cattle production systems, especially when used for swath grazing. In parts of the Peace, triticale is not yet a commonly grown crop for cow-calf feeding systems. Different types of cereal crops have different recommended stage of maturity for harvest for optimum beef cattle performance. And the stage of maturity is the most important factor determining the yield and quality of a cereal crop when used as forage. Small grain cereals are a good primary forage when backgrounding beef cattle. A small plot replicated trial was conducted in Fairview to examine a variety of cereal crop types, including 2 warm-season cereals.


The trial was conducted at Fairview Research Farm (NW5-82-3W6) on RR #35, MD of Fairview. The site used had been summer fallowed in 2012, but had a Pioneer® brand canola variety trial the year before (2011). Soil tests for the site showed a pH of 5.4 and 8.8% organic matter. The site was harrowed and then sprayed with Credit® for pre-seed weed control.

Seeding and Crop Management

A total of 9 cereal forage type crops and varieties (7 cool- & 2 warm-season) were tested. Cool-season cereals consisted of: 4 triticale (Bumper, Bunker, Taza & Tyndal varieties), 1 barley (CDC Cowboy variety) and 2 oat varieties (CDC SO-I & CDC Baler). Red Proso millet and forage sorghum were the 2 warm-season cereals used.

The treatments (9 crop varieties) were arranged in a randomized complete block design with 3 replications. Plot size at seeding was 8.5 m long 6 rows at 23 cm (9 inches) spacing between rows. A Fabro plot drill equipped with Atom jet openers was used to seed on May 23, 2013. Seeding rate was 250 live seeds m-2 (that is = 24 viable seeds per square foot) for triticale, barley and oats. Red Proso millet and forage sorghum were seeded at 20 lbs/acre. All plots were fertilized with a blend consisting of 48N-30P-10K-15S (actual lbs/acre). For triticale, barley and oat plots, in crop spraying was done with Frontline XL to control weeds. For millet and forage sorghum plots, 2,4 DE 700 was used for in crop spraying to control weeds.

Field Notes, Forage Yield Estimation and Feed Quality Analysis

Prior to harvest, notes were taken on plant lodging. Harvesting for forage yield was done at the soft dough stage for CDC Cowboy barley and forage sorghum, at the milk stage for the 2 oat varieties and at the late milk stage for the 4 triticale varieties. Red Proso millet was harvested at about 14 days after heading. For each plot, four 3 m long inner rows were hand harvested and weighed for wet yield determination. About 0.5 kg of the harvested fresh material was sub-sample and air-dried for a few days to constant weight for forage dry matter (DM) yield estimation.

Results and Discussion

Moisture Content and Dry Matter Yield

Moisture content at harvest varied significantly from 60.8% for Bumper triticale to 68.6% for CDC Cowboy barley (Table 1).

Forage DM yield varied greatly among the crop varieties tested (Table 1). CDC Cowboy barley had the highest DM (8255 lbs/acre), followed by Bunker triticale (7956 lbs/acre) and then Tyndal triticale (7676 lbs/acre). For-age sorghum had the lowest yield (3716 lbs/acre). Of the 4 triticale varieties tested, Bumper had the least DM yield. The warm season cereals generally produced lower yields than the cool season cereals.

Forage Quality (Table 1)

Forage protein was highest for Red Proso millet (16.9%), followed by CDC Cowboy barley (13.4%) and then forage sorghum (12.5%). Protein content was generally >10% for all crops tested. The various protein con-tents met the protein requirements of a dry gestating cow in the mid and late pregnancy stages, as well as during nursing of calves.

Forage Ca content was generally lower for the 4 triticale varieties than other crops. Barley, millet, forage sorghum and oat varieties had about twice the forage Ca content of the triticale varieties. Of the 9 crop types and varieties tested, only the 4 triticale varieties fell short of 0.18% Ca that is needed by a dry gestating cow in the mid and late pregnancy stages. All crop types and varieties were far from meeting the Ca requirement of a lactating cow, which requires about 0.42% Ca.

Forage P content varied from 0.20 - 0.26%. Forage Mg content varied from 0.17 - 0.65%. Forage K varied from 0.89 - 2.31%. The P, Mg and K requirements of a dry gestating cow respectively are 0.16, 0.12 and 0.6%. All the crop types and varieties tested met and even exceeded these values. Of these minerals, only the K requirement of a lactating cow was conveniently met by all crop types and varieties.

Energy (TDN) was generally between 60 and 67% for the 9 crop type and varieties. This shows that the TDN values were adequate to meet the needs of a cow in the mid and late pregnancy stages. For a lactating cow, which requires 65% TDN, the 4 triticale varieties and CDC Cowboy barley had sufficient TDN values for this category of cow. Oats, Red Proso millet and forage sorghum fell short of 65% TDN.

Taking into consideration the DM, protein, ADF, TDN, NEL and NEG, of the 9 crop types and varieties tested, CDC Cowboy barley appeared to rank higher than other crops and varieties. CDC Cowboy barley is a 2-row forage barley and probably more than adapted to this area than the other crop types and varieties.

Some Notes on Triticale

Spring triticale also provides an excellent high yielding alternative to barley and spring oat forage. Drought tolerance is the primary advantage that spring triticale varieties have over other spring cereal crops. Under dryland conditions, these varieties are a valuable alternative to feed barley and oats. In particular, a silage yield advantage of around 10 per cent over barley and oats under dryland conditions makes triticale an excellent choice for livestock producers. Triticale generally ranks between barley and oats for silage quality.

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