Published Mar 2, 2017

Rotationally Raised, Episode 10: Livestock I, Feeding Small Grains

By Nick Ohde

Time was when oats were included in the diet of nearly every single farm animal (aside from maybe the dogs and cats) raised in the state of Iowa. Cattle, dairy cows, horses, chickens, pigs and sheep all ate oats (and other small grains) at various stages of their lives. That time has now past, of course, on most farms. But for many farmers, small grains still make up an important component of the livestock feed ration. On this week’s episode, we hear from several members around the state about how they include small grains in their livestock feed.

Feeding Small Grains

Oats are probably still the most common small grain to be fed to livestock on Iowa farms. PFI members Vic Madsen of Audubon and Ron Rosmann of Harlan both include oats in their hog and cattle rations. For more information on feeding small grains to hogs, check out this Iowa State University extension publication on the topic. And while many farmers do include oats in their feed ration, over the past few years, they have also been growing “succotash.” Succotash is a mix of several small grains, and sometimes field peas are included to increase the protein content. Often this mix is spring wheat, spring barley, oats and field peas.

Ron Rosmann of Harlan says that theoretically, if you had the right small grains and enough peas, you wouldn’t have to use any soybean meal. “But what we do is a compromise,” he says – they plant a mix that includes about 90 lbs of an oat-wheat-barley mix and about 35 lbs of field peas an acre, harvest and grind it all together, and mix it into their hog ration. “When we send our rations in to be tested, we’ve got it figured out that generally we have enough field peas in there that we can reduce our soybean meal by 50% in a grow-finish ration,” he says. Regardless of the ration, sending a sample in to a lab to be tested is important, both for determining the nutrient content of the grain and to make sure there aren’t any toxins that could cause health problems for livestock. Many PFI members use Dairyland Laboratories in Wisconsin.

“We started growing succotash because we wanted a higher quality feed, instead of just straight oats, a higher protein feed, something that would work better in our hog ration,” says Dan Wilson of Paullina. “We like it because of the multispecies aspect of it,” says Dan’s son Torray, who leads the cattle operations on their farm, “different types of roots, different growth habits, it seems like different years favor one over the other a little bit.”

One piece of equipment that farmers growing their own feed probably can’t live without is a grinder-mixer. Ron says that the grinder-mixer has been the way that all farmers have ground and mixed their own rations since the 1960s, when the piece of equipment first hit the market, but they’re becoming less common. “They’re still out there,” he says, but they might not be in the best shape. “You know, you might spend $500 on one, but then you might spend $1500 getting it ready. But that’s still better than buying one new, which might cost $20,000. At least look for something used to get that cost down no matter what it is you’re doing,” he says.

For more information on formulating alternative feed rations, see the video of Jeff Mattock’s presentation at the 2017 Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference. Jeff is a feed ingredient specialist at Fertrell Company, which focuses on natural and organic fertilizers, minerals and premixes. In that presentation, he gave detailed explanations of each of the small grains (as well as other alternative feed sources) and how they could replace corn and/or soybeans in livestock diets.

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into the connection between livestock and small grains, see how farmers are planting diverse grazing mixes following small grains harvest to extend their grazing season and save money on hay. For more information on small grains, check out