Feeding Wheat to Beef Cattle

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

Wheat can be used to replace a part of the grain ration when protein prices are high and wheat is relatively cheap compared to other grains. As a general rule, limit mold-free wheat to 50% of the grain portion in finishing diets. However, some experienced feeders have used larger amounts of wheat. I tend to recommend lower levels to people not familiar with feeding wheat though (fast fermentation). Lower quality wheat: Limit wheat to 40% of dry matter or 50% of corn, whichever is highest. Take a longer time to build up to full feed than you would with corn. I would not recommend using wheat in high grain diets on self feeders or in creep rations. Salt (7-12%) might be used as an intake inhibitor for cattle on grass using a self-feeder. However, producers need to monitor consumption.

Wheat can range form 9-17% protein. Full value can be given to the protein in wheat. Since cattle can use nonprotein nitrogen to meet protein needs, beef feeder probably should not pay much premium for high protein wheats.

Processing Wheat: Although the kernel must be cracked or broken, over processing will result in the production of many fines that are undesirable since the rate of wheat starch digestion in the rumen is very rapid. Therefore, an excessive amount of fine particles will cause generally low and erratic intakes, digestive upsets and poor performance. If wheat is dry-rolled, it should be rolled or ground as coarsely as possible while still breaking all the kernels. Rolling rather than grinding generally results in fewer fines. Steam flaking wheat can improve animal performance. Mixing grains should occur after grain processing rather than before. Mix wheat with silage, haylage or corn grain to reduce the risk of animals eating too much at one time.

Problems of Feeding Wheat: Once on full feed, feed should be kept before the cattle at all times. It is not advisable to change back and forth from wheat to other feed grains when feeding high concentrate rations. Wheat is a fast fermenting grain in the rumen. Problems of depressed feed intake, acidosis and abscessed livers have been reported. They are the basis for recommendations on limiting the amount of wheat in the ration, mixing it with other grains, and for feeding at least 15% roughage. In general keep fiber levels above 6%. Wheat rations that have 6-10% fiber can work well. The addition of ionophores has made it possible to reduce some of these digestive problems and feed the higher levels of wheat.

Buffers: Buffering agents have been added to overcome the problems of reduced feed intake when high-wheat rations are feed to cattle. Adding 3.5 ounces of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) per head daily gives a slight improvement in performance of steers on wheat rations. A finely ground feed-grade limestone can also serve as a buffer. Adding an additional 1.0 to 1.3% (dry matter basis) finely ground feed grade limestone to wheat rations may give a slight improvement to performance of cattle. However, avoid increasing the calcium levels of the ration above 0.9 (dry matter basis).

Sprouting: Wheat showing more than 2% percent sprouted kernels is classified as sprouted wheat. The nutritional value of grain protein does not appear to be depressed, providing the sprout is not lost. The value of sprouted wheat for ruminant feed is apparently only slightly affected, if at all by moderate sprouting. One aspect of the feeding of field sprouted grains that must be mentioned is the fact that mold and fungal infestations are more likely with sprouted grain. Care must be taken to avoid feeding moldy wheat to livestock to prevent mycotoxin poisoning. If you suspect toxins, have it tested.

Scab: The occurrence of scab in wheat does not automatically mean vomotoxin but high levels of scabby kernels in harvested grain should be suspect. If you suspect mold/toxins have it tested. Here is a link from the OSU Beef Team Library on what to do if aflotoxins are present. http://beef.osu.edu/library/mycotoxins.html

DON (vomotoxin): New FDA limits for “beef” cattle are indicated in Dr. Shulaw’s response in the previous article. Research conducted in North Dakota and Minnesota has suggested growing and finishing cattle can tolerate higher levels (up to 18 ppm) based on research at the Carrington Research Extension Center). Assume all other classes of livestock (including horses) have much lower levels of tolerance. Molds/mycotoxins can be higher in screenings than the grain.