Research reveals no benefit in processing barley for lot-fed sheep

By Rodney Woods

Charles Sturt University research has found there are no clear benefits in processing barley grain to increase the live-weight gain of feedlot lambs.

CSU Bachelor of Animal Science honours student Sabrina Meurs examined the impact of grain processing on the performance of mixed-sex crossbred lambs in a feedlot, with support of a scholarship from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

Ms Meurs said in the cattle feedlot industry grains were commonly processed, based on evidence of improved animal performance, but little was known about the impact on lamb performance.

“Cereal grains are typically fed whole to sheep, but are processed for cattle due to their inability to chew and break the kernels,” she said.

“The lot-feeding of sheep in Australia has significant potential due to the strong export demand for lamb, the potential to produce quality lamb to meet market specifications and to be able to finish lambs in poor seasonal conditions.

“My research compared whole barley with rolled barley and steam-flaked barley as part of a total mixed ration to see if processing impacted on the weight gain and condition of the lambs in the feedlot.

“This is particularly relevant in current dry seasonal conditions with many producers lot-feeding to make the most of the high prices for heavy lambs.”

Ms Meurs found feeding processed barley did not produce any superior benefits in lamb performance, the average daily live-weight gain or body condition score, compared with whole barley.

“Feeding a high grain ration for 42 days resulted in a significant increase in both the live-weight and body condition score of the lambs,” she said.

“However, grain processing had no significant effect on either average daily growth or the final body condition score of the lambs.

“I also found that steam-flaked barley produced a better feed conversion ratio when compared to whole and rolled barley.

“Based on current feed prices, steam-flaking of barley appears to be economically profitable.

“From an animal health perspective, selection of whole grain or steam-flaked barley in a ration compared to rolled barley could be beneficial in reducing the incidence of scouring when feedlot managers are inexperienced.”