Friday, July 8, 2022

Grain to hand

For farmers scrambling for supplementary feed this winter, grain may well be an answer to their prayers.

According to the Foundation for Arable Research’s summary of grain sales, grain in store and autumn/winter planting report (prepared under the Arable Industry Marketing Initiative), there is plenty of feed grain in silos waiting to be sold.

As of April 1, FAR estimates the total amount of unsold feed grain on the market is 135,000t of feed wheat and 157,000t of feed barley.

This total includes unsold stock on hand from this year’s harvest estimated to be 116,000t of feed wheat and 112,500 tonnes of feed barley as well as significant stocks of feed grain carried over from the 2012 harvest.

Grains, with MEs ranging from 12-12.5, are a good source of energy and while there are animal health risks associated with feeding grain, particularly rumen acidosis, management strategies can mitigate these risks.

Grains should always be fed as part of a mixed diet which includes rough straw.

Feeding 0.5/kg/head/day of barley will provide a ewe with half of her daily maintenance energy requirements, although feeding more than this each day is not recommended.

According to FAR, oats is the safest grain to feed followed by barley, then wheat.

The key to feeding grain is to introduce it gradually to the diet, starting with 50g/head/day and to build up quantities over 10 days. Wheat is the most problematic and stock may need longer than 10 days to adjust to the feed.

Neither wheat, oats nor barley needs to be processed to be effectively digested and processed grains actually pose more of risk of acidosis than non-processed grains. Wholegrain is better because it stimulates chewing and the addition of saliva which slows breakdown in the rumen, reducing the risk of acidosis.

Grain should be fed from a hopper leaving a narrow line about 40mm deep and 100mm wide.

To avoid wastage through trampling, the grain should be fed on dry ground near shelter belts or a fence. Ideally the grain should be distributed before the sheep are run into the paddock. Feeding hay or straw before feeding grain can prevent rumen overload and acidosis.

FAR admits it can take time for sheep to begin eating grain but salt added at 3kg/100kg of grain can encourage them to start eating.

Straw is an important component of a diet when feeding grain, particularly when the weekly ration exceeds 2.5kg for weaned lambs and 3.5kg for adult sheep.

Barley straw is the best straw to use and the rougher it is the better, because it stimulates saliva production and saliva is rich in bicarbonate which helps neutralise the acid in the rumen.

Straw is better than hay which is better than silage as a supplement to grain, but hay and silage are useful for training sheep to eat grain. Once they are on to larger grain rations, rough straw needs to be included in the diet.

Where grain makes up a high proportion of the diet, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can be mixed with the grain at 1.5kg/100kg grain. This helps neutralise the acid in the rumen. Feed additives such as Eskalin and Rumensin can also be used to mitigate problems with acidosis.

So what does it cost to feed grain? At the middle of May feed wheat in Canterbury was selling for $370/tonne, barley was $360/tonne, and oats were making $435/tonne.

Prices good 

Ivan Luketina from NZX, says these prices for feed wheat and barley are relatively good in historical terms.

They are about 5% below the three-year average, but that is mostly due to a large spike in 2011. For oats this price is high, at 10% above the three-year average.

A quick look on Trademe showed grain hoppers (for feeding out grain) were selling from $500 to $1200.

Advantage feeders is an Australian company which has patented a stationary grain feeder which limits the amount of grain an animal can eat to prevent stock gorging.

New Zealand agent Peter Tonkin says the animal licks the grain out of the feeder and this stops working when the animal stops producing saliva – so it is essentially self-regulating.

The licking period is limited because the livestock use the saliva from their tongue to get the feed out of the groove and the saliva decreases with progressive licks.

The company states that research has shown that when used in a supplementary feeding situation the stock will lick for grain for five to 10 minutes, then graze. Tonkin says the feeders, priced from $1850, have been selling extremely well this season due to widespread drought.

They sold 40 units at the South Island field days in March and of a container-load of 55 coming from Australia, 25 have been pre-sold. The feeders are flat-packed so need to assembled, but this also means they can be delivered throughout the country.

One of the main advantages of the stationary feeders, apart from not having to feed out every day, is the reduction in grain wastage. Most of the comments they get is around the lack of wastage.

The feeders can be used for all types of grain and pellets – anything that is free flowing.

Tonkin says most of their sales have been to farmers in the South Island where grain is more readily available. He suspects the cost of carting grain north is a deterrent to North Island farmers. 

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