Researchers hope hybrid rye silage will help fill the nutrition gap

Researchers hope hybrid rye silage will help fill the nutrition gap

Frank Zhang says that when he talks to his colleagues about silage, they are all familiar with barley silage – but no one knows about rye silage.

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“It’s very rare to find people using rye silage,” Chang says. “But thinking about the changing environment, just like this year’s drought…this could provide an opportunity to provide a feed source for livestock.”

Zhang is participating in a doctoral study at the University of Saskatchewan under the supervision of Dr. Greg Benner, looking at how hybrid rye silage compares to barley silage. On June 20, Zhang and Benner presented their findings to attendees at a field day for the Livestock and Forage Center of Excellence near Saskatoon, Sask.

Hybrid rye silage

Benner says his hybrid rye silage research began when some of his colleagues told him about new rye varieties, some of which had been developed using forage applications.

“Potential opportunities associated with these rye varieties were a shorter pollination window, which would reduce the risk of ergot contamination,” Penner says. “Historically, ergot has been a challenge for using rye in livestock diets.”

Benner, Zhang and others at the university went further to research the topic, conducting a two-year trial, starting with the 2021-2022 season. They got the hybrid rye in the ground by mid-August 2021 to maximize forage production.

“What we did was try to create a research program that would allow us to capture some representation of field productivity, chemical composition and silage characteristics, and then evaluate how that silage affected the performance of cows that were growing in the background,” Benner says. “So this is a slower growth program as well as a finishing program where the feed inclusion rate is much lower.”

In the spring of 2022, for the second year of the experiment, they planted barley in addition to rye. Each crop had a field-scale plot of land.

“We balanced those plots across multiple fields and tried to account for variance to make sure we didn’t have an imposed bias for rye or barley,” Penner says. “We harvest the hybrid rye at the early dough stage, very early, and the barley at the fine dough stage to produce silage.”


Penner says they now have two years of data. Based on that data, there does not appear to be a difference in productivity between barley and rye, although he recognizes that crop production has been abnormal over the past couple of years due to drought conditions, which is not good for rye in general.

Because the barley was taken at the soft dough stage while the rye was taken at the early dough stage, they had different chemical compositions going into the bag. However, Benner says they both have good fermentation rates and have both performed well.

As for the cattle, Benner says 60 percent of their diet was forage.

“What we saw was that as the amount of rye increased, we got a decrease in feed intake,” Penner says. “More rye results in cattle eating less and, as a result, they grow slower and have a lighter body weight at the end of the tail stage.”

On the finishing side, they fed 10 per cent silage instead, which is common in finishing diets in Western Canada.

“We saw again that we had a reduction in final body weight, and we had a different growth response where replacing half the barley caused a reduction in growth but replacing 100 percent barley silage did not reduce growth,” Penner says. “This appears to be a reaction to the mixture.” Of the hybrid rye silage and barley silage which has a depressant effect.” “Apart from that, there was no change in feed intake and, again, we saw equal feed conversions between cattle that were fed all barley silage or all rye silage. ”

Zhang says they fed the cattle four nutritional treatments and got preliminary results for some of the calves. The calves, weighing 236kg, were fed 100 per cent rye, two-thirds rye and one-third rye, plus 100 per cent barley.

The results were that calves that consumed 100 percent hybrid rye silage had a final weight of 429 kg, while calves that consumed 100 percent barley feed reached 451 kilograms.

“What we see from the background is that the rye silage inclusion rate increased, as the average daily rate of gain decreased linearly,” Zhang says.

Hybrid rye versus barley

Benner says there are different reasons why a producer might choose to grow barley or rye. He says a producer may want to plant hybrid rye because it allows silage to be removed earlier due to seeding time, and will allow producers to take advantage of winter and spring moisture.

Barley, on the other hand, is more commonly used in silage, cattle seem to prefer it over hybrid rye, and based on their research, cattle seem to gain more weight on it.

However, Benner says research suggests one is not better than the other. Alternatively, hybrid rye silage and barley silage are likely to be more beneficial when used alongside each other.

“What our data consistently tells us is that if we raise cattle in the background, we probably won’t get the same productivity from those cattle if we feed all hybrid rye,” Penner says. “So in this case, we may want to feed lower inclusion rates of hybrid rye and provide barley silage as another component.

When you’re dealing with finished cattle, there seems to be an opportunity to have an all-hybrid rye silage component within their diet.

Although ergot has always been a concern when feeding rye to livestock, with hybrid rye silage, Penner says there is less risk.

“When we harvest hybrid rye silage, part of the management is to cut that plant early and before there is too much risk of ergot development. It doesn’t mean that ergot can’t develop, but the ergot bodies will be smaller inside the kernel. So, we reduce the concentration, and then on top of So, we have all the forage biomass, so again, it mitigates the potential effects of ergot.

Future research

Now, Benner and Zhang are preparing to begin the second phase of this research: looking at measures of animal welfare.

“I will start studying for confirmation for the second year,” Zhang says. “We will have a similar experimental design to what we had in the first year.”

Continuing this study also goes hand-in-hand with some other research being done on hybrid rye, Penner says.

“We’ve also completed all the work on using hybrid rye grains compared to using barley grains, and we have two more detailed nutritional studies where we evaluated how hybrid rye silage is digested in cattle relative to barley silage,” Penner says.

Benner says hybrid rye silage may in the future become an option for producers in harsh climates.

“I think weather management is more important than it has been historically,” he says. “There are a number of different approaches you can use to manage these risks. But winter grains may be an opportunity for producers who feel they are in areas where they are exposed to more fall precipitation as well as snowmelt or spring rainfall, especially if they are in an area with high exposure.” to adverse weather events during the summer.

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