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Processing Grain for Cattle

Grinding or rolling grain improves digestive efficiency compared to grain that is fed whole to beef animals. But there is a potential downside to this if the grain is not processed properly.

Introducing grain to a ration is a gradual process. Rumen microbe populations need to adjust from a high fibre ration to one that contains more starch. Some rumen populations will decrease in numbers while others will increase. If a 1300 pound cow is receiving 3 to 4 pounds of grain at the start of the change over, additional grain fed should not exceed 1 pound every second day.

Watch the manure. If the consistency is normal the increases can continue as mentioned above. If the manure becomes runny and watery, this is an indication that the rumen is not functioning properly; and sub clinical acidosis is occurring. More severe symptoms can be bloat, grain overload. If the consistency of the manure is not normal, reduce the amount of grain fed and do not increase grain in the ration until the manure appears normal. The guideline for increasing grain content in the ration also applies to weaned calves and feeder animals.

Animals under 700 pounds tend to eat slower and chew feed more thoroughly than larger animals that gulp their food and rely on rumination to break the grain. When creep feeding calves on pasture, grains and peas do not need to be processed.

The increase in digestive efficiency varies with the type of grain processed. Improvements are 5 to 7% for oats, 12 to 15% for barley, 25% for wheat, rye, and triticale. Barley and oats can be broken into 2 or 3 pieces; while wheat, rye and triticale should be broken into 2 pieces. The processed bushel weight should be approximately 70% of the whole grain bushel weight. This is known as a rolling index. For rolled grain, if there is a line across the kernel and it breaks apart when it is rolled between the finger and thumb, this is adequate.

Photo Credit: Yvonne Yaremcio

The processed grain should not contain more than 5% fines by weight when sieved over a 1 mm screen. Higher amounts of fines increase digestion rates which can lead to digestive upsets.

For additional information on processing and feeding grain to beef cows, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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