A treatment to ‘temper’ grains and pulses – commonly used by the feed trade – is now being used on a Durham farm to address the problem of feeding poorly milled, dusty cereals and beans to beef.

Beef, sheep and arable producer, Josh Knaggs (pictured), has worked hard to cut out bought-in feed from his livestock rations and has now removed a feed bill of around £30,000 from his business accounts. So, when he started feeding his stock last winter and found neither his home-grown cereals nor beans performed as they’d previously done, it was a source of concern. Farming with his father, Eric, over 283 hectares (700 acres) at East Newbiggin Farm near Darlington, he says he usually uses home-grown barley and beans for rearing and finishing his beef and pedigree stock bulls. These animals are either sold fat through Darlington Mart or the best Limousin bulls from his Jorica herd will be sold for breeding, either privately or through Borderway Mart in Carlisle.

Achieving good health and performance is essential for the financial success of the family business, so when Josh encountered problems with last winter’s feed, he was quick to address the issues. He says: “In a typical year we would have combined our beans at 20% moisture and treated them with Propcorn NC.” However, in the face of last year’s heatwave and drought, the beans came off the field at 14% moisture. This meant they could be stored dry, and the plan was to roll them before feeding, as usual, through the farm’s mill. “But when we put them through the mill, they were totally obliterated – just turning to dust,” he says. “We continued feeding them in the beef ration, but the stock’s performance really went downhill. “We were feeding them to 8–10-month-old bulls, and the feed just went right through them,” he says. “Their intakes went down, their dung was loose, they became very restless and we had one case of clinical acidosis.” Josh had worked with Kelvin Cave Ltd in the past, so he approached the company for advice on how to remedy the situation. His request came soon after KC Ltd had developed a feed treatment process, which had been formulated to deal with the dry grain stored on many farms, after last year’s hot summer. “Milling dry cereals and pulses can be a dusty business as any farmer who rolls grain of 14% moisture or less will know,” says KC’s technical director, Michael Carpenter. “We knew that very dry grain was shattering in feed mills, regardless of the type of rollers used. And some very small, dry grains escaped processing altogether and remained whole, even when they’d passed through the mill.”

This was the reason behind the company’s development of ProFlake NC, to be used as a treatment to ‘temper’ grain. It’s a process which is widely used in hotter climates, most notably Australia and New Zealand, and involves soaking the grain in a mixture of surfactants and preservatives, which causes it to swell, increases its feed value and makes it easy and dust-free to roll. “The UK feed trade uses a similar tempering process to reduce the dust and increase the shelf-life of feeds, but we didn’t see why the same benefits couldn’t be made available direct to farmers,” he says. Josh opted to use the recently developed product, ProFlake NC, which he briefly mixed in his feeder wagon, with both water (100 litres per tonne) and the beans.

“This was soaked overnight, and in that time, the beans increased from 14% moisture to what I’d say is optimum – about 19.5-20%,” he says. “We then tipped the beans out of the wagon and put them through our Murska 350 mill, and they rolled into 50p-piece sizes, exactly as they would in a normal year.” Furthermore, palatability of the tempered grain noticeably increased, intakes improved and the cattle were said to appear very content. As Michael explains: “Feeding ruminants pulses or grains which have been turned to dust in a mill is never a good idea as it will break down rapidly in the rumen and potentially cause acidosis. “That’s why you’ll often see the biggest and best beef fattening units feeding higher moisture grain as it is more palatable, achieves higher intakes and better health and performance.” 

Josh not only corroborates these observations but was so pleased with the outcome that he used the same process to temper his barley as soon as he saw the results on the beans. “It was exactly the same story,” he says. “It was coming out like dust through the mill so we thought we’d give it a try.“We’d actually had quite a good sample of barley at 14% moisture, which is good for storage but not great to feed,” he adds. As with the beans, the tempered barley rolled a lot better, the improved palatability and intakes were clearly maintained and the cattle continued to be more content. All of this has allowed Josh to continue successfully feeding his almost exclusively home-grown rations. These include hoppers of rolled barley and beans (75:25 by weight) with molasses, minerals and yeast, fed with straw to the bulls. The slower-growing heifers are put on a total mixed ration which, in each tonne mix, comprises 500kg grass silage, 300kg tempered barley and 200kg tempered beans, with added minerals and yeast. 

“All our major ingredients are produced in-house which is saving a fortune, especially the beans, with the current price of protein,”
Josh Knaggs

Even the calf creep, fed from around three to seven months, is grown on the farm, with each tonne comprising beans (200kg), oats (420kg), barley (340kg), molasses (30 litres), yeast and minerals (10kg). “I haven’t calculated the exact saving across the farm since the surge in grain and input prices, but in previous years, when we used to buy in more feed, it would not be uncommon for our feed bill to exceed £30,000 per year,” he says. “Now that costs are spiralling out of control, I feel it’s more important than ever to scrutinise our inputs and being more self-sufficient with our feeding is definitely helping control our costs of production.”

East Newbiggin Farm facts

• 283 hectares (700 acres) of mostly low-lying Grade 3 land for beef, sheep and arable

• Ap 200ha (500ac) arable (wheat, barley, beans, oats and oilseed rape) and 80ha (200ac) grass

• 80 pedigree and commercial Limousin (pure- and crossbred) suckler cow calving in spring and autumn

• Progeny all retained or sold for breeding or finished on the farm

• Bulls are typically finished at 15-16 months at 750-800kg live weight, heifers at over 550kg

• 450 Texel cross breeding ewes, served to a Beltex or Texel tup

• Creep feeds for both calves and lambs are grown and mixed on the farm

• All major feeds for all stock are home-grown including rolled barley, beans and oats

• Tempering used for the first time last winter on low moisture grains and pulses

Tempering grain and pulses before rolling

• Uses a product comprising surfactants and preservatives when adding water to dry grain

• Surfactants ensure water is quickly absorbed into the grain

• Preservatives prevent mould formation on the rolled grain

• Recommended for use before rolling on dry samples of grains or pulses

• Used by the feed-trade for many years but now available to farmers

• Adds to the shelf-life of rolled grain so milling can be done in larger batches

• Prevents dust in the rolling process, so improving rumen health and digestion

• The organic acids in ProFlake NC also increase the energy content of grain

• Tempered grain can be traded from farm to farm, with a shelf-life after rolling of up to three months

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