High quality grains add to feed options

Dairy rations | Producers should save highest quality feed for top producing animals

RED DEER — High quality forage is one key to better milk production in dairy cows. 

“With high quality forages, your cows will have the opportunity to reach their genetic potential relative to their milk production,” said Barry Robinson, head of Great Northern Livestock Consulting Ltd. in northern Alberta.

Fewer supplements are needed in high quality forage, so that can be a cost saving, he said at the Western Dairy Seminar held in Red Deer March 11-14.

Robinson recommended using the best quality feed for the highest producing animals. 

“Why feed it to heifers when you can feed a lower quality cereal silage or rained-on haylage,” he said. 

Energy is the most important nutrient for milk production. Protein content can be supplemented, but energy cannot be replaced with other products if it is not present in forages.

Corn silage is the highest energy forage in North America, but other feeds can also be offered. 

Grain is a good source of energy, especially if it is grown on the farm. 


“If you are purchasing grain from the neighbour, I guarantee you, you will be purchasing the lightweight barley,” he said. 

Barley kernels need to be broken into two or three pieces to release the energy. 

Oats are not typically used in a lactating ration. 

Wheat has three percent more energy than barley. However, it digests quickly so quantity should be limited in the ration. 

Corn is available in Western Canada, but it is never cheaper than barley. It can fit into certain formulations to improve milk production, but producers should consider the price and consult a nutritionist. 

“In my experience, if you don’t feed two to three kilograms of corn, you are probably just fooling around,” Robinson said. 

Complete feed bought from a mill may include half a kilogram of corn per day. It provides colour in the feed but is not enough to make a nutritional difference. 


Supplemental fat offers 2.25 times more energy than carbohydrates.

Some mills in Western Canada offer canola oil, but it is difficult to feed. 

Rolled canola is an overlooked commodity, but canola meal is expensive at $400 per tonne. 

“This may be the best time to consider feeding rolled canola,” he said. 

It can be introduced gradually until it reaches 1.2 kg per cow per day. 

Dairy protein comes in different forms, and nutritionists know how to work with them. 

Dairy rations were once formulated at a rate of 18 percent crude protein, but now they are closer to 16.5 to 17 percent. This saves 38 cents per cow per day.