Corn versus barley in beef cattle finishing diets: effect on steer performance, feeding behavior, and ruminal environment

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


While corn is the most common feed ingredient in the United States, barley, which is more suitable for the growing and climatic conditions at northern latitudes, can be a common feed alternative to corn. The different digestive utilization of unique feedstuffs coupled with extreme environmental conditions can pose challenges to efficiently feeding cattle in different climates. Thus, to further our understanding of the use of barley in feedlot diets at northern latitudes this study evaluated the effects of barley and corn finishing rations on feedlot performance, feeding behavior, and ruminal environment. For two consecutive years, Angus-based yearling steer calves were fed in a feedlot trial (427.3 + or - 3.7 kg; n = 48 in year 1, and 406.8 + or - 3.4 kg; n = 47 in year 2). Steers were randomly assigned to one of two primary basal grain dietary treatments: 1) Number 2 feed corn or 2) Hockett barley. Steers were fed in a GrowSafe system to measure individual animal intake and behavior throughout the duration of the study. Twelve steers per treatment group for each year of the study were also fitted with a HOBO pendent G accelerometer to measure activity and a SmaXtec ruminal bolus for continuous rumen monitoring of temperature and pH. Limited differences were observed in regard to performance and eating behavior of steers fed corn or barley-based diets. The steer's diet interacted with short term environmental changes to influence animal feeding behavior, but diet had limited impact on cattle lying activity. Continuous ruminal monitoring revealed average daily ruminal pH and temperature were not impacted by diet; however, diet did affect daily variation in ruminal pH and temperature. Intake patterns were also different between corn and barley-fed steers in which corn-fed steers consumed more feed the first 6 hours directly after feeding while barley-fed steers consumed more feed later in the day. Presumably, these intake patterns could be influenced by differences in diurnal patterns of ruminal pH between corn and barley. Depending on cost and production year, both barley and corn can be high quality feedstuffs to use in beef cattle finishing rations.




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