Research Project

Identification of forage potential using a forage evaluation spreadsheet of current and recently registered cereal varieties selected for other purposes

Project Lead: Dr. Vern Baron, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Lacombe, AB)

Start Date: March 1, 2016
End date: May 31, 2019

Alberta Barley’s contribution: $15,000


Approximately 1 million acres of cereal forage is grown in Alberta annually. Small grain forages are assumed to be among the least expensive feedstuffs for ruminants. Forage varieties are still chosen on the basis of visual assessment as in tall and leafy phenotypes.  Cereal breeders have no benchmarks upon which to place an economic value, except those that are acceptable to the industry based on visual assessment. There is no objective system and method to estimate value in the variety of livestock systems available to the seed retailer.

A forage evaluation spreadsheet was developed to be part of a variety evaluation system. Inputs were yield, quality and costs of production. Animal production parameters such as weight gain or loss and carrying capacity for swath grazing of beef cows and rate of gain for backgrounding calves were estimated along with the respective economic outcomes.  The spreadsheet was tested in focus groups and adjusted accordingly. The spreadsheet Milk 2006 was also used to compare the varieties for dairy relevance.  The evaluation system was used on barley, triticale and oat varieties grown at three locations and years, with respective yield and quality data and economic inputs for silage and swath grazing systems.

An important outcome was that the spreadsheets provided variety and species comparisons for different livestock systems that could be evaluated statistically as in any agronomic study. Barley contained the most diverse set of varieties and the most interesting results. A 2-row barley, CDC Cowboy, a widely advertised and utilized forage variety was used as a control.   CDC Cowboy ranked highly for forage yield but consistently ranked near the bottom of all barley varieties for forage quality and spreadsheet-generated production parameters.  Six-row barley varieties ranked low for yield, but highly for forage quality and related production parameters such as rate of gain and milk produced per tonne of forage. By contrast the 2-row barley varieties Champion, Canmore and Gadsby provided an attractive combination of yield and forage quality that provided superior economic results.  Champion, a feed grain type, ranked highest in backgrounding and milk production; Gadsby ranked highest for reduced swath grazing costs and acceptable weight gain for winter grazed cows; and Canmore a food type, ranked highly in all of backgrounding, milk production and swath grazing. Three 6-row prospective barley lines were identified with superior forage attributes using the spreadsheet and on that basis were selected by the seed industry for marketing to producers.  These were AB Cattlelac (Alliance Seeds), AB Advantage (SeCan) and FB 481 (to be determined). Each has slightly different attributes that make them economically advantageous. The impact of the best variety choice can be appreciated by comparing the popular or worst (Cowboy) with best (Champion) choice.  In a scenario of feeding a weaned calf from 500 to 800 lbs it would take 42 more days and cost $48 more feeding Cowboy vs. Champion.  In a 1000 head feedlot, the feeding costs would be $48,000 greater if Cowboy was chosen over Champion.  The gross value of milk production for Champion over Cowboy was $253 per tonne of silage fed and the net difference $93 per acre after the cost of production was removed, thus $46,500 more value for 500 acres of silage.