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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #340251

Research Project: Multifunctional Farms and Landscapes to Enhance Ecosystem Services

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Title: Sprouted barley for dairy cows: Is it worth it

item Soder, Kathy
item Heins, Brad - University Of Maine

Submitted to: Extension Fact Sheets
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/19/2016
Publication Date: 4/19/2016
Citation: Soder, K.J., Heins, B. 2016. Sprouted barley for dairy cows: Is it worth it. Extension Fact Sheets. P. 1.

Interpretive Summary: No Interpretive Summary is required. JLB.

Technical Abstract: Sprouted grains have gained renewed interest among grazing dairy farmers in response to high grain prices, grain scarcity (in the organic dairy sector) and challenges in producing high-quality forages. This interest has been spurred by high-profile advertising by companies selling the systems, as well as farmer reports of improvements in milk yields, cow health and farm profitability. However, there are little scientific data available on feeding sprouted grains in the temperate regions of the country such as the Northeast or Upper Midwest. The objective of this research was to evaluate the feasibility, effectiveness and challenges of implementing sprouted barley fodder on grazing dairy farms. In Study 1 (sprouting study), five grains (barley, oats, wheat, rye and triticale) were sprouted for 7 days in a fodder system and analyzed for yield and nutritional content. While barley and oats had the greatest fresh weight, oats had the greatest dry matter yield. Barley had the lowest mold score. In Study 2 (cow study), lactating cows were fed a Total Mixed Ration during winter and supplemented with either no fodder or 1.4 lb (dry matter) of sprouted barley fodder. Milk production, milk fat, body weight and body condition score were not affected by fodder. Cows fed fodder had slightly greater milk protein and greater milk urea N (16.5 mg/dl for fodder cows vs. 13.5 mg/dl for cows not fed fodder). This suggests that cows fed fodder may not have been as efficient in utilizing protein, an income over feed costs (IOFC) favored not feeding fodder except when grain prices increased by 50% over those used in the study ($11.77/bushel), giving fodder a slight edge ($0.44/cow/day) at the highest grain price. However, the initial investment in the fodder system was not included in the IOFC analysis, and therefore the actual cost of producing fodder would be even higher. In Study 3 (on-farm case study), three organic dairies that fed sprouted barley fodder were monitored monthly for 12 months to collect data on feed nutritional analysis, milk production/composition and management information. Two of the farms discontinued feeding fodder during the study due to labor, cost of production, barley supply and mold issues. No milk response was noted when fodder was fed on 2 of the farms, most likely due to the high-quality forage produced on those farms. The third farm was small and had a low-cost homemade system and family labor to manage it. Milk production increased 3 lb/d when fodder was fed on the third farm. However, forage quality was marginal on this farm, therefore fodder may have provided better nutrition and milk response. Each farm must put pencil to paper to determine if implementing fodder in feeding management is a good idea, making sure to include all costs in deciding whether the money could be better spent growing or purchasing higher-quality forage.