Crimped Beans with Brewers’ Grains for Stable High Protein Feed

Cumbrian beef, sheep and arable producer, James Marshall, entered the world of growing and feeding beans with some trepidation. A lack of information on how to preserve and store the crop combined with little industry advice on how to incorporate beans into a ration could easily have put him off the idea altogether. 

But, as the manager of the Mounsey-Heysham family’s Castletown Estate, which comprises 1,740 hectares (4,300 acres) between the rivers Eden and Esk to the north west of Carlisle and includes 1,093 ha (2,700 acres) of environmentally sensitive salt marsh, he believed he had to find a way.

He knew beans could help him meet the Basic Payment Scheme’s greening rules – both through achieving the crop diversification required and also in the creation of ecological focus areas (EFAs) – and he knew their high levels of protein and their nitrogen-fixing credentials would be of commercial value to the estate.

“We particularly wanted to produce home-grown protein for the beef,” says Mr Marshall, describing the 625 head enterprise which comprises 60 native suckler cows and their progeny and around 500 head of bought-in stores. “But we’d always bought in our protein in the past, and didn’t really think we’d be able to grow pulses very successfully.”

The farm itself is low-lying, rising from sea-level to around 11 metres above, and holds high levels of ground water in some areas for much of the year. The salt marshes themselves – which carry the cattle through the summer as well as the farm’s ‘salt marsh lamb’ which is destined for Marks and Spencer – have to be managed with the utmost sensitivity and in accordance with the tides and are part of an environmental scheme with Natural England.

But Mr Marshall needn’t have worried about the farm’s ability to grow beans and recognises that even in a difficult year the crop has been a success.

“We planted our first 70 acres [28 ha] of spring field beans in 2015 when the season was cold, wet and late,” he says. “They were in the ground by late March to late April and we harvested them between 22 September and late October, although ideally they’d have come in earlier.”

The first batch of 14 ha (35 acres) – planted on the farm’s lightest, sandiest soils – was harvested with a combine, coming in at an ‘unexpectedly high’ fresh weight yield of 4.3 tonnes/acre (10.6 t/ha) and at a moisture content of around 35 per cent.

When the decision had to be taken about the beans’ preservation, Mr Marshall turned to crimping – a process he routinely employs with moist cereals – involving rolling the grain, preserving with an organic acid-based product, and compacting and sealing in a pit on the day of harvest.

The process is said to suit the farm, with its absence of grain drying facilities and a limit on the availability of dry storage, very well.

“If I have to combine dry I consider I have failed,” says Mr Marshall.

However, although he could see the attraction of the crimping process for preserving the moist beans, he knew that excluding air from the clamp – essential for the prevention of spoilage – would be difficult to achieve with such a large ‘grain’.

It was faced with this dilemma that he had the idea of mixing the rolled beans in a wagon in a 2:1 ratio with brewers’ grains, and applying the same preservative, Crimpstore 2000S, he had regularly used on his crimped cereals.

Michael Carpenter, northern regional manager for Kelvin Cave Ltd, was supportive of the approach, acknowledging the difficulty of achieving anaerobic conditions in the clamp for a crop such as beans.

“The brewers’ grains seemed the perfect product to fill the air gaps between the beans, and the crimping product James chose would rapidly reduce the pH of both feeds in the mix,” he said. “This would mean retaining the maximum nutrient value of the crimped beans, achieving a controlled fermentation and protecting both components of the feed against spoilage organisms which could otherwise cause deterioration at the opened feed face.”

Mr Marshall concurred that even the brewers’ grains benefitted from the extra preservation and lasted far longer than would typically be expected. 

“Brewers’ grains in a pit in August quickly go mouldy,” he says. “After about two weeks you have wasted a lot of energy and you start to see the yeasts and moulds.”

The new mixture, in contrast, would last as long as required and could either be fed as a high protein concentrate (see analysis in box) as a summer buffer feed to the finishing group, or used in winter as part of the total mixed ration.

Compiling the basis of the TMR himself and fine-tuning the quantities through the Kelvin Cave rationing programme, Mr Marshall has arrived at two rations – for growing and finishing groups – which have proven to be effective, highly palatable and safe (see box below).

“We feed quite a lot of whole-crop cereal – usually barley – so this is relatively low protein and complements the high protein of the brewers’ grain and bean mix in the finishing ration very well,” he says.

Added to this is fruit peel and crimped barley (both relatively low protein) together with a high energy, high protein syrup produced as a by-product of bio-ethanol production.  

In the overall analysis the finishing diet delivers metabolisable energy of 11.86 MJ/kg DM, 14.88 per cent crude protein, 37.02 per cent starch and 37.13 per cent neutral detergent fibre (NDF).

Performance on both rations has exceeded expectations, with the finishers gaining 1.8kg per day compared with a predicted daily liveweight gain of 1.6kg.

Michael Carpenter attributes the better-than-expected performance in part to the ration’s high palatability and intake characteristics and in part to the rumen-friendly nature of the ingredients.

“The starch in the ration is slowly fermented in the rumen while the ration is also high in digestible fibre with plenty of scratch factor,” he says.

Mr Marshall concurs and adds: “We have no problems with acidosis or laminitis and by weighing the finishing cattle every two weeks, we find ourselves moving animals through the system more quickly than in the past.”

Specialising in native beef, including four types of Galloway (Belted, Black, Dun and White), as well as White and traditional Shorthorns, Aberdeen Angus, Herefords and Highlands, he also adds dairy crosses and even pure Holsteins as opportunistic purchases. 

Store cattle are bought throughout the year between 12 and 18 months at 350 to 550kg and will stay on the farm for around six months to as much as a year, and are destined for a range of outlets, from local butchers to the Morrisons Traditional Beef Range.

Having also taken half his bean acreage as whole-crop last year, Mr Marshall now plans to increase the overall acreage to 85 (34 ha) and harvest it all as crimp.

“I hope to crimp it all as it means the beans will come off earlier and it will help the following crop,” he says, remarking that, budgets permitting, he plans to install more clamps.

The farm’s agronomist, Simon Nelson from Agrovista, expands on the agronomic benefits, remarking: “A lot of the beans on this farm were grown on light, sandy and hungry soils which have little residual nitrogen.

“The beans which were harvested last September have been followed by a hybrid barley, so the expectation is that we will have higher yields from this year’s barley because it’s following a nitrogen-fixing crop.”

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