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Feeding Wheat to Cows and Backgrounding Calves March 3, 2022 @ 4:00pm

Wheat grain is an alternate energy and protein source in cattle rations. Energy wise, it contains 20% more than oats, 10% higher than barley and similar to corn, rye and triticale on a pound per pound basis. In addition, it contains substantially more protein than corn, barley or oats and is comparable to rye and triticale.

There are limitations on how much wheat can be included in a ration. The starch contained in wheat is rapidly digested. When introducing wheat into a ration, start with one pound per head per day. The amount fed can be increased by one pound every third day as long as the manure appears to be normal. If the manure becomes loose, do not increase the amount of wheat fed until it returns to normal. Do not exceed 5 to 6 pounds of hard red spring wheat to mature cows and 3 pounds to 700-pound backgrounding animals or replacement heifers. Different references may recommend higher feeding rates, but the higher the inclusion rate, the more significant the risk of digestive upsets. If feeding durum, reduce the maximum amount fed by 15%. If higher grain feeding rates are required in straw/grain rations, for example, mix the wheat in with other cereal grains.

Wheat should be cracked or gently rolled. Whole wheat has a 25% lower digestibility than kernels broken into two pieces. Do not process wheat finer than this. The risk of acidosis and bloat increases when wheat is too fine due to the rapid digestion rate.

Including an ionophore such as Bovatec or Rumensin in the ration reduces the risk of digestive upsets. It also improves digestive efficiency by 5 to 7%. It is economical to include an ionophore in rations with the high cost of feeds.

Wheat is to be fed on a daily basis. Do not feed every second or third day. It is not recommended to be used in creep feeders where calves have free unlimited access.

Additional information can be found in these articles:

Barry Yaremcio

Ruminant Nutritionist


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