Comparing Oats and Barley for Cattle Rations


High prices and low hay supplies have some producers changing to a straw and grain ration prior to calving. The question then becomes: Is it cheaper to feed oats or barley to the cows? It is necessary to consider the price and nutrient content of each grain. The table below lists the prices from the week of December 17, 2021 (Weekly Crop Market Review, Alberta Agriculture) and the nutrient content of the feeds.

Grain

Cost per Tonne / $ per bushel

Pounds TDN

Kg Protein

TDN

Protein

Barley

$440 / $9.58

1620

109.7

83.1%

12.5%

Oats

$570 / $8.80

1513

101.9

76.1%

11.3%

Wheat

$460 / $12.51

1727

137.5

88.9%

15.6%

Canola Meal

$441

1418

351.9

70.0%

38.3%

As an example, using a base ration of 22 pounds of straw, 12 pounds of barley and 1.5 pounds of canola meal to feed a 1400-pound cow in late pregnancy; how many pounds of oats are needed to replace the barley and keep the energy and protein content constant? On average, barley contains 7 to 10% more protein and 7 to 10% more energy on a pound for pound basis compared to oats. The exception is the newer varieties of brown oats (SO1 or Nasser) which have the same energy density as barley grain. If energy is the only consideration, the ration would require 13.2 pounds of oats to replace the barley.


With a lower protein content in oats, more canola meal is required to maintain the same protein intake as in the barley ration. The feeding rate increases to 1.7 pounds per head per day. Canola meal also contributes energy to the ration and oat feeding rate can be reduced to 12.6 pounds per day.


Feeding a straw, barley and canola meal ration is $3.47 per cow per day while the straw, oat, canola meal ration is $4.37 per day.


Even though the oats are cheaper per bushel, overall feeding costs increase with the higher feeding rates for the oats and canola meal.


There are other management considerations that need to be taken into account when comparing different grains in cow rations. These will be covered in the next article.


For more information on comparing feeds in rations, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or bjyaremcio@gmail.com.