Tend-R-Leen Training Manual Module 2 Module 2: Why Feed Cattle Whole Corn

Why Feed Cattle Whole Corn

Hogs are much more efficient at converting grain to weight gain than are cattle.  That’s because hogs have a simple stomach rather than a rumen.  The rumen in cattle is the stomach that contains bacteria that enables it to digest fibrous roughage.  However, roughage feeding doesn’t provide enough energy for high gains.  The rumen’s bacteria are inefficient at digesting grain, losing 22 to 40% of it as heat and gases of fermentation.

Ground, cracked, or flaked corn has a lot of surface area for bacteria to work on.  Whole grain chewed into a few large pieces has less surface area, so much of it passes through the rumen to the intestine before bacteria are able to break it down.  The grain starch that passes to the intestine in cattle is then digested almost identical to the way it’s digested in the hog intestine.

Although 2 to 4% of the kernels pass through undigested, numerous research trials have shown efficiency of grain utilization is usually increased when grain is fed whole in low or no-roughage rations.  That’s because the improved efficiency from the shift to whole shelled corn outweighs the smaller amount of whole kernels that are not digested.  Also, there is normal undigested grain starch present in manure when ground or cracked corn is fed, it’s just not visible.

Since rumen digestion is reduced, less roughage is required because the animal’s natural buffering ability and Tend-R-Leen® supplementation are able to maintain good biochemical condition in the animal.  Actually, if a small amount of roughage is fed, it is not utilized by the cattle.  The specific bacteria and protozoa that digest fibrous roughage do not survive in the more acid rumen environment which results from grain digestion.  The large corn particles swallowed when whole corn is fed, provide the scratch factor needed to keep the rumen wall in good condition and helps keep liver abscesses to a minimum.  Dairy steers fed on the low-roughage program from birth never fully develop their rumen capacities to the level that would result from roughage feeding.  Thus the rumen plays a smaller part in the digestion of the grain and supplement fed. 

Some additional factors are necessary to make whole corn, low-roughage feeding work:

1)  Protein and mineral supplementation must be designed to adequately fit the needs for the shift in digestion to the intestine and the higher potential rates of gain from less feed.

2)  Feed bunk or feeder management must ensure the cattle have access to feed at all times, so feed intake and digestion remains uniform.  Thus, overloading the animal with grain for short periods of time should not occur.

3)   Reduced opportunities for mold and easier to store and handle.  This reduces processing and handling costs.

4)   Holstein steers fed whole shell corn were followed to slaughter and the rumen content revealed that about 5% of the corn in the rumen was whole and the rest was split like rolled corn.

5)   A summary of trials show ADG – 6% advantage with whole corn and F:G – 4% advantage.

6)   Reduced processing cost including shrink.

7)   Roughage doesn’t have the right kind of energy for high gains.

8)   Ground corn can impact in the rumen and damage the papilli.

Performance of Holstein Steer Calves Fed Starter Diets Containing Whole or Rolled Corn with Pelleted Protein Supplement

Item                   Rolled Corn                     Rolled/Whole Corn                     Whole Corn

No. of Steers                                       24                                24                                            24

Initial Wt. (lbs.)                                    115                              115                                          115

Starting Age (days)                              38                                38                                            38

                                             —————————————First 56 days———————————-

56 day Wt. (lbs.)                                  220                              224                                          227

Daily Gain (lbs.)                                   1.89                             1.96                                         2.00

Dry Feed Intake/day (lbs.)                   4.80                             5.13                                         5.10

Feed/Gain                                           2.54                             2.62                                         2.55

                                             ————————————–Day 57 to 127———————————-

127 day Wt. (lbs.)                                405                              420                                          425

Daily Gain (lbs.)                                   2.62                             2.75                                         2.79

Dry Feed Intake/day (lbs.)                   9.09                             9.50                                         9.37

Feed/Gain                                           3.47                             3.46                                         3.35

                                             ———————————-Overall Performance—————————-

Final Wt. (lbs.)                         405                              420                                          425

Daily Gain (lbs.)                                   2.29                             2.40                                         2.44

Dry Feed Intake/day (lbs.)                   7.17                             7.85                                         7.50

Feed/Gain                                           3.15                             3.16                                    3.07                                        

Whole corn vs. cracked or ground corn

Pennsylvania State University

Grinding dry shelled corn did not pay with cattle fed two pounds per head daily of alfalfa or grass hay.

University of Missouri-Columbia (from Agriculture publication G02054)

In general, corn between 14 and 19 percent in moisture is not improved by dry-rolling or grinding when fed in low roughage rations.

Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Nebraska

(As published in 2000 Nebraska Beef Report, pg. 38)

Feeding trials with growing-finishing cattle have seldom shown performance benefits for cracking dry corn compared to feeding it whole.

Beef – Digestive System

Ruminants seldom develop lactic acidosis on straight hay rations.  Roughage in the form of hay — made up of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin and silica is normally chewed and re-chewed by the animal and allowed to swell in the rumen fluid.  The roughage is fermented in the rumen slowly by cellulolytic bacteria.  The fluids formed in this process are well buffered by bicarbonate of soda, much of which is secreted in the saliva as the animal chews its cud.

Contrast this to a high-level grain ration whereby grains are rapidly fermented by the streptococcus bovis with large resultant amounts of acid.  These acids do not tend to be nearly as well buffered.  As a result, when too much grain is introduced to the rumen too rapidly, pH drops to a lower than ordinary level and a different species of organism (lacto bacilli) becomes predominant and produces extremely low pH or acidity.  This kills protozoa and cellulolytic bacteria, alters rumen bacteria balance and can cause either chronic or acute digestive disorders.

Effects of Corn Particle Size on Ruminal pH

Research Results

University of Minnesota-Waseca Trial, 1992

Study of carcass characteristics of Holstein steers fed whole corn and pellet diet with or without access to long hay.

Feedlot performance and carcass quality of spring finished Holstein steers fed whole corn and pelleted supplement with or without access to long hay.

   Pellets & whole shelled cornMaximum one pound limit fed hay, pellets & whole shelled cornFree choice hay, pellets & whole shelled corn
Carcass weight684 lbs.658 lbs.690 lbs.
Dressing percentage59.4%58.6%60.1%
Marbling score5.75.24.9
Average quality gradeChoiceChoice –Select +
Percent of steers grading low choice or better  72.7%  50.0%  33.3%

H. Chester-Jones, D.M Ziegler & G.L. Dobberstein, Southern Experiment Station, Waseca, MN.  Research Report 1992, pg. 117-122.