Wheat Worries

Cattle Feed Safety Concerns

Producers are urged to be cautious and test quality and safety of wheat before feeding it to cattle. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Boyd Kidwell)

Look for wheat to be a popular feed option this fall, as wet growing conditions have led to crops already seeing discounts in some Midwest areas due to disease, low test weights and sprout-damage.

Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension beef educator, is cautioning cattle operators to test grains and grain byproducts before feeding them. Specifically he stresses testing for mycotoxin levels, especially vomitoxin. Grains with elevated levels of vomitoxin can decrease feed intake and in some severe cases compromise animal health.

Methods of storing infected wheat will be especially important, as moisture has to be less than 18% to stop the growth of mycotoxin. For long-term storage a 13% moisture level is recommended.

Meteer recommends the following for producers feeding wheat this year:

1. Look at Test Weights. Low test weight grains can be a negative for feed value. If test weights are over 50 pounds per bushel, animal performance is not negatively affected.

2. Understand the Impact of Sprout-Damaged Wheat. For cattle there is very little, if any, reduction in feed value for sprouted grains. Data from Washington State University compared sprouted wheat with a control diet of a barley-based finishing ration. Sound wheat, low-sprout wheat (9% sprouted) and high-sprout wheat (58% sprouted) were compared at 25% and 50% of the diet. There were no differences in average daily gains, feed to gain or carcass characteristics.

3. Dilute Vomitoxin Levels. While there can be a visual indicator of vomitoxin this is not a reliable predictor. Producers should test and monitor vomitoxin levels and if feeding affected grains, blend them with clean grains to reduce levels, says Meteer. Blending should take place directly prior to feeding to avoid contamination of clean grains.

4. Consider Toxin Binders. There are some products, says Meteer, that will bind to vomitoxin and keep it from being absorbed by the animal. These phyllosilicate feed additives include clays, sodium bentonite and aluminosilicate.

5. Use Straw for Bedding. Feeding straw from wheat fields that tested high for toxins are less risky. However, there can still be elevated levels of vomitoxin. Because of that Meteer recommends using the straw for bedding versus feeding it in a ration. If the straw has been baled wet and appears moldy it should also be tested.