Switching to crimp speeds up beef growth

Switching to crimped cereals instead of feeding them dry-rolled has marked a turning point for Colin and Gareth Pugh’s beef enterprise on Cwmwhitton Farm. The father and son team who farm 1,000 acres (405ha) in Whitton, Powys on the English-Welsh border say their farm is mixed in the traditional sense so every enterprise has to dovetail with another.

So, when they learnt that crimping grain meant harvesting around three weeks earlier than usual, they could see a big advantage from the outset.

Gareth Pugh proudly displays the quality of his crimp.“We could see we’d be harvesting in better weather and would take the pressure off both the main cereal harvest and the seed potatoes which come early in September,” says Gareth (pictured). “And getting the barley off early would also mean we could sow an autumn forage crop like stubble turnips for grazing lambs or even reseed grassland prior to the winter.”

The reality lived up to their expectations in every way but exceeded them greatly in terms of animal performance. 

“From the moment we started feeding crimp in 2008 it was obviously very palatable and there’s definitely been less feet trouble and absolutely no sign of acidosis,” says Gareth. 

What he couldn’t tell was precisely how fast the cattle were growing when fed on crimp but he was in a favourable position to find out.

“We are a Farming Connect Farm which means we can be used for demonstration purposes by the Welsh government, and it also gives us the opportunity to do some trials,” explains Gareth.

“I was keen to carry out a trial using crimped cereals as I wanted to convince myself we were doing the right thing,” he says. “As a demonstration farm we were able to do so under the supervision of independent nutritionist, David Hendy, who designed a trial for the farm.”  

Continental cross bull beef from the herd’s 140 Salers suckler cows were randomly split into two groups and put on to one of two nutritionally equal rations. One group was fed dry-rolled barley with oats, beans, minerals and yeast while for the other group the rolled barley was substituted with a 50:50 mix of crimped wheat and barley. Both groups were fed their rations ad lib, along with plentiful water and straw.  

The outcome of the trial was conclusive, with bulls fed the ration with crimp performing better than those fed rolled cereals. Those on the crimp had a 2.97% increase in daily liveweight gain and a £39.44 per head increase in margin over feed. They also had a 2.5% increase in carcase weight from 1.5% fewer days in age and carcase grades were higher with more grading U+ and one E on the crimp.

“The figures need to be seen in the context of a one-off trial but they concur with other research carried out over a number of years which suggests crimped cereals do perform better than dry-rolled,” says Mr Hendy. “We also know that crimp is excellent from a nutritional perspective as it is safer for the rumen and more digestible than rolled grain.”

For Gareth he says the farm is definitely sticking with crimp and has seen more and more advantages over the years. Apart from the earlier harvest which is a huge bonus for this farm, he says both the quantity and quality of crop is better.

“We harvest barley for crimping at 3.75t/acre at 35% moisture compared with 2.75t/acre for the dry harvested crop at 16% moisture,” he says. “This equates to a dry matter per acre of 2.44 tonnes for crimp compared with 2.31 tonnes for dry cereals and the crimp’s protein is higher and its digestibility better because much less lignin has formed.” 

Other advantages he cites include crimping, treating and clamping on the day of harvest and slashing the need for rolling and bagging grain – with the dust and labour involved – through the winter.

“I have also bought a new crimper – a Korte 700 – which will keep up with the combine at harvest, can also roll dry grain and I can hire out to other farms,” he says.

“Crimping has certainly made growing cereals on an upland farm with a short growing season much more manageable,” he says. “It’s made winter feeding – for both beef and sheep – much easier than before and most important of all, we’re getting better animal performance.” 

This article was first published in Farmers Weekly 


What is grain crimping?

Grain crimping involves the rolling of early-harvested cereals through a crimping machine to expose the carbohydrate and protein, and the application of a buffered organic acid-based preservative. This ensures a controlled fermentation and maximum nutrient retention once stored in an airtight clamp (or plastic tube). A range of modern preservatives allows crimping at grain moisture contents of 15% to 45% although the most digestible crimped grain, giving the best animal performance, is harvested when moisture is above 25%. Crimp must remain sealed for at least three weeks and can then be fed throughout the year.

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