Animal Feed Barley

Barley is one of the main cereal crops. Animal feed barley grain production ranked fourth behind corn(maize), rice and wheat.

Developing countries account for about 25% of the total barley harvested area. Barley is a cereal grain that has demonstrated world-wide importance.

Although generally considered an energy source, barley has more protein than other cereals commonly used in ruminant diets. Nutritional composition of barley can be affected by geographic location and climatic conditions. Varietal differences account for some of the differences observed in nutrient composition. However, it is thought that test weight has a more significant effect upon nutrient composition. Barley needs to be processed to be used effectively in cattle diets but the procedure need not be elaborate

There are thousands of cultivated barley landraces and hundreds of cultivars. Cultivars can be classified according to several factors: the number of rows of grains (2-row and 6-row), compactness of spikes, hull adherence (hulled or naked barley), presence or size of awns (awned, awnletted or awnless varieties), growth habit (winter or spring barley) and colour (white, blue or black kernels). End-use may also be a way to classify barley.

Barley is of utmost importance for livestock feeding, which accounts for about 85% of barley production. Six-row barleys, which have higher protein content, are a valuable feed ingredient . Two-row barleys contain more starch and less protein and are thus preferred for brewing (barley with more than 11.5% protein causes beer cloudiness).

Barley is grown in more than 100 countries: the 10 main barley producers (Russian federation, France, Germany, Ukraine, Canada, Australia, Spain, Turkey, UK and USA) account for 75% of the total world production. Barley importers include countries that use it primarily for animal feed, as Saudi Arabia (29% of exported barley), Iran and beer producers like Belgium and the Netherlands.

Barley grain must be dried before storage. In developing countries, the harvested crop is left to dry in open and sunny areas during the day and covered during the night. When the crop is harvested by hand, bunches are made with the straw and left in the field until the moisture content is reduced to 12-14%, and then collected and threshed.


Seasonal variation has no major effect on the net energy maintenance (NEm) content of barley. They estimated the NEm content of barley to be 1.82 or 1.91 Mcal/kg of dry matter depending upon the analytical method used. These values were similar to those reported by NRC for barley grain and Pacific Coast barley grain, which were 2.06 and 2.12 Mcal/kg of dry matter, respectively.
The majority of energy in cattle finishing diets is supplied by starch. It is therefore important to identify the site where starch is digested and to quantify the extent to which it is utilized. Diets prepared using grain sorghum had total tract digestion values which were lower than those
obtained when corn, barley or wheat were used.

The values were 72%, 83%, 84% and 88% respectively. Results from steer feeding trials showed that total tract digestibility of dry processed barley or corn was greater than dry processed grain sorghum; 79% and 81% vs. 76% . Total tract starch digestion was observed to be greater for steers fed barley or corn when compared to those fed grain sorghum; 99.2% and 99.1% vs. 97.2%. Maximum total tract digestion of starch and other organic matter is related to the rumen degradability of those components

Test Weight and Effect on Quality of Feed Barley

The nutrient composition of barley is variable. This variation may be caused by geographic location, year of production and variety (cultivar).

Thin kernels may result from unfavorable environmental conditions or plant diseases. Extremely hot weather during maturation results in
premature ripening and prevents normal filling of the kernels. Lack of available soil moisture may limit the nutrient supply and cause shrunken kernels. Wet springs can delay planting, which results in light test weights. Kernel weight, hectoliter weight or bushel weight, percent plumpness and the presence or absence of hulls are all related to nutritional quality.

The price of feed barley has traditionally been based on test weight. As test weight decreases fiber content increases and the energy decreases. Thomas et al. reported reduced animal performance in animals fed barley that had a test weight of 60.1 kg/hl compared to barley with a test weight of 66.8 kg/hl. Hinman used barley with test weights that ranged
from 56 to 68 kg/hl and observed reduced gains for feedlot steers fed the lower test weight barley. Mathison and Milligan observed similar gains for steers fed barley with test weights that ranged from 46.1 to 68.2 kg/hl. However, feed efficiency favored the heavier test weight barley. Steers fed the light test weight barley required 4% more feed per unit gain than those fed medium or heavy barleys, but the difference was not significant. Hanke and Jordan reported that heavy test weight barley produced faster and more efficient gains in young lambs than light test weight barley.

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