Guest Article: Corn or Barley for Feeding Steers?

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What We Found - Angus
  3. What We Found - Charolais

Introduction

The influence of grain type (barley versus corn) on carcass merit and meat quality has become an important issue for Ontario cattle producers. While beef production in Ontario is based on corn, barley is the primary feed grain energy source in Western Canada. Several years ago the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association initiated an "Ontario Corn Fed" beef program. The primary goal for the program is to increase the quality, consistency and market share for Ontario "corn fed" beef. Previous trial comparisons, for finishing cattle, have primarily evaluated dietary differences in growth performance and carcass merit, while measurements of meat quality and taste have been less extensively evaluated.

Unfortunately, beef cattle prices have been greatly reduced due to an isolated case of BSE in Canada. Research is therefore needed that explores ways of reducing production costs while ensuring superior eating quality of beef. The primary objective for this trial was to evaluate the effects of grain source (barley versus corn), corn silage feeding level and market weight endpoint on measurements of steer performance, carcass merit and meat quality.

Picture of cattle being fed on a free choice basis, with the individual feed intake of each steer measured using a Calan Gate system.

Cattle were fed either rolled barley or rolled corn, with either a high level (50%) or low level (15%) of corn silage, giving a total of 4 different diets. (see Table 1)

Table 1. Diets Fed
Diet Composition of Diet
(% , Dry Matter Basis)
1 70% corn grain + 15% corn silage
2 35% corn grain + 50% corn silage
3 70% barley grain + 15% corn silage
4 35% barley grain + 50% corn silage

Two trials were conducted, one with 92 Angus steers and the other with 108 Charolais steers. Cattle were fed on a free choice basis with the individual feed intake of each steer measured using a Calan Gate feeding system. Angus cattle were marketed after achieving an assigned body weight of either 550 kg (1210 lbs) or 600kg (1320 lbs) while Charolais cattle were marketed at 600kg (1320 lbs), 650kg (1430 lbs) or 700kg (1540 lbs).

What We Found - Angus

  • Corn fed cattle had greater feed intakes and greater daily gains while requiring fewer days to market than barley fed cattle.
  • Feed efficiency was similar for grain type (barley versus corn) and market weight end point (550 versus 600 kg).
  • Silage feeding level (50 versus 15%) and market weight endpoint did not affect daily gain
  • Feeding 50% silage increased feed intake while reducing days to market (a surprising result!), but feed efficiency (feed:gain ratio) was poorer for high silage diets.
  • Carcass measurements were not affected by grain type or silage level.
  • Cattle in the heavier market weight group had higher carcass weight, marbling and ribeye area.
  • Eating quality traits such as tenderness, juiciness, and flavour were not affected by grain source, silage level or market weight.

What We Found - Charolais

  • Daily gains were similar for each grain source (barley versus corn), silage level (50 versus 15%) and market end point (600, 650 or 700 kg).
  • Corn grain fed cattle had higher feed intakes than barley fed cattle.
  • Feed intake was similar for each silage level and market end point.
  • Grain source and silage level did not affect feed efficiency, carcass weight, dressing %, ribeye area, backfat depth, lean rib yield or tenderness.
  • The feeding of 50% silage diets increased lean yield while slightly reducing marbling when compared to 15% silage fed cattle.
  • The feeding of cattle to 700 kg increased carcass weight and dressing %, but with lower lean yields than cattle marketed at 600 and 650 kg. A trend towards higher marbling was also observed.

Relevance To The Ontario Industry

The Alberta cattle industry runs a very effective marketing campaign touting the superiority of grain-fed beef from Alberta. While Alberta feedlots use barley as the predominant feed grain, corn will also be extensively fed depending on cost spreads between barley and corn. The present study demonstrated that there were few differences in growth performance (gains, intakes, feed efficiency), carcass traits (lean yield, rib eye area, marbling), and eating quality (tenderness, juiciness, flavor) between feeding corn or barley. Similar results were also achieved when 15 or 50% silage [high (70%) or low (35%) grain] diets were compared. The present findings indicate that high grain feeding may not be needed to produce a very acceptable beef eating experience for the consumer.

 

Table 2. Effects of grain source and corn silage feeding level on Charolais steer growth performance, feed intake, carcass and meat quality.
Growth Performance and Feed Intake
 
  Grain Source
Silage Level (DM)
  Rolled Corn Rolled Barley 50% Silage + 35% grain 15% Silage + 70% grain
Ave. Final Weight (kg)
669.9
668.2
668.8
669.3
Days to Market
212.3
216.1
218.0
210.3
Average Daily Gain (kg)
1.6
1.6
1.6
1.6
Average DM Intake (kg/d)
9.4a
8.8b
8.9
9.2
Feed Efficiency (DM/gain)
5.8
5.6
5.7
5.7

 

Carcass and Meat Quality
      
  Grain Source
Silage Level (DM)
  Rolled Corn Rolled Barley 50% Silage + 35% grain 15% Silage + 70% grain
Hot Carcass Wt. (kg)
374.7
376.2
374.5
376.5
Dressing Percentage
55.9
56.3
56.0
56.2
Lean % - Rib Dissection
53.2
54.1
54.8c
52.5d
Fat % - Rib Dissection
27.9
27.2
26.9c
28.3d
Marbling (four point scale)
2.7
2.6
2.5c
2.7d
Intramuscular Fat (%)
4.1
4.3
3.9a
4.4b
Warner-Bratzler Shear Force (kg)
4.9
5.2
5.1
4.9

a,b indicates a significant trait difference between rolled barley and corn.
c,d indicates a significant trait difference between 50% and 15% silage in the diet.  

 

Table 3. Effects of market weight endpoint on Charolais steer growth performance, feed intake, carcass and meat quality.

 

Growth Performance and Feed Intake
        Weight Endpoint
  600 kg 650 kg 700 kg
Average Final Weight (kg)
621.1a
670.6b
715.3c
Days to Market
178.1a
219.5b
244.9c
Average Daily Gain (kg)
1.7
1.6
1.6
Average DM Intake (kg/d)
9.2
8.8
9.3
Feed Efficiency (DM/gain)
5.5
5.6
5.9

 

Carcass and Meat Quality
    Weight Endpoint
  600 kg 650 kg 700 kg
Hot Carcass Wt. (kg)
345.9a
375.1b
405.4c
Dressing Percentage
55.8a
55.9a
56.7b
Lean % - Rib Dissection
54.9a
53.8a
52.2b
Fat % - Rib Dissection
25.5a
27.2b
30.1c
Marbling (four point scale)
2.3a
2.7b
2.9b
Intramuscular Fat (%)
3.7a
4.1ab
4.7b
Warner-Bratzler Shear Force (kg)
5.3
5.1
4.7

a,b,c indicates significant trait differences between market weight endpoints.

For the full technical report of this research contact:
Phil McEwen, Ridgetown College, 519- 674-1541
pmcewen@ridgetownc.uoguelph.ca

 


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