Be Fussy About Barley Seed For Dairy Fodder

With barley seed in short supply and demand up for dairy fodder, avoid buying heat-dried grain.

Published on: Jul 24, 2013

If you plan to buy barley for sprouting this year, it's important to ask your supplier if the grain has been put through a grain dryer, cautions Anu Rangarajan, director of the Cornell Small Farm Program. There's good reason.

Most barley being harvested during this rainy summer has been dried. Heat-dried grain won't germinate, says Rangarajan.

Last winter, there were reports that no certified organic barley seed could be found in Pennsylvania or New York due to the growing market for fodder production, adds Fay Benson, Cornell University Extension small dairy support person. Demand has only risen since, which is why Benson wrote a feature article on the topic for the soon-to-arrive August issue of American Agriculturist.

ITS A DOC GREEN TREAT: Grown indoors, fresh green barley sprouts are a welcome alternative to dairy ration grain concentrates.
IT'S A 'DOC GREEN' TREAT: Grown indoors, fresh green barley sprouts are a welcome alternative to dairy ration grain concentrates.

'Barley what?' you ask
Barley fodder is grain that's watered and sprouted before feeding. It's typically done in pans kept moist for 6 to 7 days. By then, the seed grows 6 to 7 inches of leaves and a 1- to 2-inch-deep root mass.

The resulting feed is much better then feeding ground grain, notes Benson. Soaking the seed activates enzymes that break down starch into sugars, proteins into amino acids, and lipids into free fatty acids. No sunlight is needed. Fodder also moderates rumen pH, instead of acidifying it as grain does.

As far as Ken Wilson of Black Lake, N.Y., is concerned, the debate over barley fodder's investment return is over. Wilson Farms is one of the largest U.S. dairies using fodder production – 3,200 pounds per day. In 2009, Ken started measuring the difference in his herd as he began feeding barley fodder to his 150-cow milking herd. He immediately noticed increased feed efficiency. His cows went from consuming 55 pounds of dry matter to close to 70 pounds. That increased intake allowed Ken and father John to reduce the expensive grain portion in their total mixed ration.

Catch more details on barley fodder on page 34 of August's American Agriculturist. And, catch Benson's exhibit in the Cornell Building during Empire Farm Days.