With wheat prices in some areas dipping below corn values, you may be reevaluating your options for animal feed. If you are a beef or swine producer, these prices may put you in a position to substitute wheat into livestock rations in place of corn.
A large harvest and relatively slow demand has pulled wheat prices in some parts of Kansas, particularly in southwest areas of the state, below corn prices, said Kansas State University agricultural economist, Dan O’Brien.
Substituting wheat in beef production
K-State Research and Extension feedlot specialist Chris Reinhardt said that because wheat normally has a nutritional feeding value approximately 5 to 10 percent higher than corn for growing and finishing cattle, this provides an opportunity for cattle producers.
“When finishing feedlot cattle there are generally two primary means of processing feed grains: steam flaking the grain or feeding it dry rolled,” Reinhardt said.
“If someone is steam flaking grain, there is very little nutritional difference or management change needed between steam flaked corn and steam flaked wheat,” Reinhardt said. “The two feedstuffs are fairly similar in terms of starch availability and the risk of acidosis.” The real difference and need for a change in management philosophy is between dry rolled wheat and dry rolled corn. Reinhardt cautioned that dry rolled wheat has a higher risk of acidosis than dry rolled corn.
“A producer should not switch entirely from feeding 100 percent dry rolled corn to feeding 100 percent dry rolled wheat,” Reinhardt said. “Typically we recommend the diet be around 35 percent to at most 50 percent dry rolled wheat. A producer will want to gradually ease into the level maybe with a dose in that 15 percent range to get the cattle adapted to the higher rapidly available starch load.
Wheat should be processed with what is called a coarse crack to improve digestibility. A coarse crack with wheat is finer than a coarse crack with corn due to the difference in the physical properties of the starch. Wheat tends break into very small starch granules, like flour, which leads to finer particles in the diet and rapid ruminal fermentation of the starch.
It is more challenging to steam flake wheat than corn due to wheat’s smaller kernel size. To accommodate wheat, steaming times and possibly roll corrugations need to be modified. All of the accommodations require time and energy, and possibly considerable capital outlay, so changes should not be made without careful consideration, Reinhardt said.
While it may require a certain degree of management, he noted that steam flaking wheat would allow switching to 100 percent wheat in place of 100 percent corn. This eliminates the need to utilize more than one grain at a time.
Reinhardt recommended only feeding dry rolled wheat as 35 to at most 50 percent of the grain in the diet for finishing cattle. For backgrounding cattle on a lower grain diet using wet feed ingredients such as silage and grain milling byproducts, wheat may replace up to 100 percent of the corn in the diet.
While some feeders feed buffers such as sodium bicarbonate, it is not always necessary, he said. With proper caution, preparation and management, a buffer is not necessary.
Reinhardt noted that feeders should not be concerned over potential lost gains as wheat theoretically has higher energy content than corn. The challenge becomes managing the available energy in the diet and making sure the cattle do not become acidotic. He stressed the importance of working with a nutritionist prior to making a change.
“We like to say cattle should be finished with the same grain they were started on,” Reinhardt said. “A standard guideline is to secure a 90-day supply of wheat to feed if a change is implemented; finishing cattle don’t respond well to change and respond even less well to multiple changes over the finishing period.”
Substituting wheat in swine production
“I want to ensure producers understand that feeding wheat to swine is nothing new,” said Mike Tokach, K-State Research and Extension swine specialist. “Wheat has been fed in Kansas and worldwide for many years. In Kansas, we used to feed wheat to pigs in the summertime almost every year because it provided a price opportunity between the harvests. For swine, anytime you get wheat prices anywhere below 110 percent of the price of corn, wheat will serve as an alternative. When it is under the price of corn it comes in quite favorably.”
Tokach said that the change from corn to wheat should not be made casually. Producers should consider if they have the ability to use more than one grain at a time or how they will make the switch.
Many swine producers are either replacing half of the diet with wheat or 30 to 35 percent, he said.
“The biggest problem we worry about in swine is grinding the wheat too fine,” Tokach said. When the wheat is too fine, two important issues could arise - ulcers, which can lead to death, and poor flow ability of the diet in the feed bins and feeders. To minimize the risk, wheat should be ground between 500 and 800 microns.
“There are some dietary formulation changes that need to happen,” Tokach said. “I encourage producers to work with a nutritionist if they’re going to make the change to wheat because they can aid in taking advantage of the extra protein and phosphorus.
“As long as you make the necessary formulation changes there really isn’t a big down side for gain,” Tokach said. “One could argue there is a small negative affect on growth rate and feed efficiency because wheat is lower in energy than corn if you don’t add another energy source to the diet. However, that’s going to be a very small change and a pig will compensate and consume more feed in order to make up for the energy level.”
Tokach suggested swine producers evaluate their situation from a practical standpoint. If producers incorporate wheat into their feeding program and make the switch, they should use wheat for some period of time to justify the inputs required.