Recent wheat prices are competitive with or lower than corn. If you do consider feeding wheat, there are advantages and limitations.
By Rick Lundquist, Ph.D.
The Wall Street Journal (Aug., 9, 2011) reported that there is now an anomaly in the price of wheat versus corn. Historically, wheat has always traded higher than corn, but with surging corn prices and a bumper wheat crop in many countries, recent wheat prices are competitive with or lower than corn. This has prompted Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride to start feeding some wheat in chicken rations, according to the Journal.
I’ve already had questions from clients about replacing corn with wheat in our dairy rations. Chicago wheat and corn each closed at about $7.00 per bu. on Aug. 11. With corn at 56 lb. per bu. and wheat at 60 lb. per bu., wheat was $16/ton less than corn.
If you do consider feeding wheat, there are advantages and limitations. Wheat is about 14% protein, so it will also reduce supplemental protein costs compared to corn. But wheat should replace no more than 30% of the corn grain in the ration. Cows should be adapted slowly. This is due to the highly degradable starch in wheat, which may cause digestive problems and acidosis if overfed. It has a “weird starch protein matrix that makes the starch sticky” according to Pat Hoffman at the University of Wisconsin. It is low in prolamin.
Ground wheat feeds similar to well fermented high moisture corn, so I wouldn’t recommend feeding it with high moisture corn. But it can complement dry ground corn. A diversity of starch sources in the ration can be an advantage. With corn as the primary starch source in most rations, adding other cereal grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oats or sorghum can optimize the rate of starch digestion, which may enhance milk production and fat test.
As we have discussed before, cows don’t like change. Rumen bugs take at least two weeks to completely adapt to ration changes. So I wouldn’t recommend feeding wheat to save a few bucks on the corn bill for short time. I’d advise that if you do include it in your ration, you take a position in wheat so it can be fed for an extended period of time.
Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.