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Effect of the maturity at harvest of whole-crop barley and oat on dry matter intake, forage selection, and digestibility when fed to beef cattle



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The objective of this research was to determine the effect of stage of maturity at the time of harvest for barley and oat whole-crop forage on feed intake, ruminal fermentation and digestibility, and the impact forage allocation has on intake and ruminal fermentation. In the first 2 studies, whole-crop barley (Study 1; c.v. CDC Cowboy) and oat (Study 2; c.v. CDC Weaver) forage were harvested at the late milk (LM), hard dough (HD) and ripe (RP) stages and offered ad libitum to ruminally cannulated heifers. Diets were supplemented in an attempt to balance crude protein (CP) among treatments. Heifer performance, dry matter intake (DMI), ruminal fermentation parameters, ruminal digestibility, and total tract digestibility were evaluated. In Study 3, whole-crop oat (c.v. CDC Weaver) forage harvested at HD and RP was offered ad libitum to ruminally cannulated heifers in either daily (1-D) or 3 d (3-D) allocations. Dry matter intake and ruminal fermentation parameters were measured. In Study 1, harvest maturity of barley did not affect DMI (P = 0.70; average 5.4 kg/d) or average daily gain (ADG; P = 0.64). Total tract digestibility was decreased for barley harvested at HD (P = 0.003), but harvest maturity did not affect daily digestible energy (DE) intake (P = 0.52). Minimum ruminal pH for heifers fed the barley forage was lowest for LM (6.09), intermediate for RP (6.13), and greatest for HD (6.25; P = 0.016). Total short chain fatty acid (SCFA) concentrations were not affected by harvest maturity (P = 0.36). In Study 2, harvest maturity of whole-crop oat did not affect DMI (P = 0.26; average 8.1 kg/d) or ADG (P = 0.52). There were no effects of harvest maturity of oat forage on total tract digestibility (P = 0.78) or daily DE intake (P = 0.68). The minimum ruminal pH from heifers fed oat forage was lowest for HD (5.84; P = 0.012), intermediate for RP (5.94) and greatest for LM (5.99). There was no effect of harvest maturity of oat forage on total SCFA concentrations (P = 0.21). The quantity of forage allocation (Study 3) had no effect on total or forage DMI over a 3-d duration (P ≥ 0.47). Throughout the 3-d feeding period, 3-D allocated heifers had a reduction in the area pH was under 5.8 (214.4, 79.5 and 10.9 pH × min/d, for d 1, 2 and 3, respectively; P = 0.003). Total SCFA concentrations were not affected by forage allocation or harvest maturity (P ≥ 0.14), however there was an interaction of forage allocation and day in the feeding cycle (P = 0.046). Heifers allocated 1-D had no change in total SCFA concentration over the 3-d feeding period (averaged 122 mM), but 3-D allocation had elevated concentrations on d 1 (138 mM) intermediate on d 2 (135 mM) and decreased on d 3 (117 mM). These data suggest that harvesting barley and oat at the HD stage improves DM yield without negatively affecting cattle DMI and ADG. These data also suggest that providing 3-d allocations of forage does not affect DMI, but can increase daily fluctuations of ruminal pH and ruminal SCFA concentrations.



Allocation, Barley, Digestibility, Forage, Harvest maturity, Intake, Oat, Swathgrazing



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Animal and Poultry Science


Animal Science


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