What to Do With Sprouted Grains

Wet and humid weather during the harvest season can result in an abundance of sprouted grain available to the livestock feeding industry. Feeding trials with beef cattle, pigs and poultry show that sprouting has no effect on feed value. Data from Alberta and various American universities show the performance of livestock fed sprouted grains is similar to that of livestock fed non-sprouted grains albeit, some reduction in intake of sprouted grain may be observed. Thus, it is advisable to blend in sprouted grains in finishing rations; when feeding to cows or backgrounding calves; this should not be an issue. Sprouted grains should be fed by weight and not by volume.

Data collected at Washington State University indicates that sprouted wheat compared favorably to a control barley-based finishing ration. Sound wheat (no sprouting), low-sprout wheat (9% sprouted kernels), and high-sprout wheat (58% sprouted kernels) were compared at either 25 or 50% of the diet. No differences in ADG, feed to gain ratios, or carcass characteristics were detected (Table 1).

Table 1. Effect of level of sprouted wheat on performance of feedlot cattle.

ADG (lbs/day) Feed Intake (lbs/day) Feed Efficiency
Barley Control 2.90 20.8 7.15
25% Sound Wheat 2.97 20.9 7.03
50% Sound Wheat 2.86 20.2 7.06
25% Low-Sprout Wheat 2.81 19.7 6.96
50% Low-Sprout Wheat 2.73 19.9 7.27
25% High-Sprout Wheat 2.99 20.9 6.99
50% High-Sprout Wheat 2.84 20.2 7.05

Washington State University. 1986.

Low sprout wheat = 9% sprouted kernels

High sprout wheat = 58% sprouted kernels

Additional research conducted at Washington State University indicated that sheep ate more high-sprout wheat compared to sound wheat, but that digestibility and energy content of the sprouted grain was slightly lower compared with sound wheat. Adapted by Greg Lardy, NDSU.

The feeding value of sprouted and frosted barley was investigated in Alberta in 1987. Researchers found no difference in performance with frosted or sprouted grain compared with normal barley with no sprouting or frost damage (Table 2).

Table 2. Nutrient characteristics and feedlot performance of sprouted and frosted barley.

1 2 3 4 5 6
Type of Damage None Sprouted Sprouted Frosted Frosted Frosted
% Damaged Kernels 0.1 18.7 6.9 75 >75 >75
Bushel Weight (lb) 51 48 45 47 42 43
CP (%) 12.1 13.3 11.0 11.4 11.7 12.3
Steer Performance
ADG  (lb/day) 2.71 2.84 2.68 2.79 2.62 2.97
Feed Intake (lb/day) 17.95 17.82 17.51 16.87 17.49 18.13
Feed Efficiency (lbs feed/lb grain) 6.65 6.29 6.57 6.02 6.67 6.08
*adapted from Greg Lardy, NDSU 

Due to the higher moisture content of sprouted grain, spoilage and mold growth may occur during storage. Suspect grain should be checked for molds and not fed to young or pregnant/lactating animals.

Options for Effective Storage

  1. Aerating the grain is the best option for optimum quality and minimal storage losses. Dry down with grain dryers to 18% moisture. Moisture tests off the field can be somewhat erroneous and variation in moisture is possible, depending on the degree of sprouting. Grain storage researchers at North Dakota State University suggest that 1-1.5% moisture should be added to actual moisture reading of sprouted grain.
  2. If approaching 20% moisture, field storage is strongly recommended, rather than placing grain in steel bins. Try to turn grain with the use of augers. Also, if possible place aeration vents in fields stored grain and maintain air circulation through grain. Environmental temperature is a big factor; outside stored grain at 15.5 0C can easily store for 75 days, however, if temperature rises to 21 0C storage life drops to 30 to 45 days.
  3. Ensiling grain in conventional silos or commercial silage bags. For best results with ensiling, the grain needs to be rolled or ground before being placed in a bunk or vertical silo. If it is not processed, excess oxygen will be trapped in the grain and spoilage will be substantial. Grain going into an oxygen-limiting silo does not need to be ground. Moisture content should be a uniform 23-35% for good ensiling. Grain that is drier than this will not ensile well and storage losses can be significant. Uniform moisture content may be a problem with sprouted grain. Good silag management needs to be practiced (i.e. covering, packing, proper feedout etc.)
  4. Treat with a preservative (propionic acid, ammonia). Propionic acid seems to be the preservative of choice although there are reports of ammoniation working well. The amount of acid depends on grain moisture content, length of storage and temperature. As a guideline, grain with 30% moisture is treated with 1.25% propionic acid (100%) by weight for a year's storage (3gallons/ton wet grain). If storage time is 6 months or less the amount of acid can be reduced by half. Propionic acid is somewhat problematic as it corrodes metal and storage should be only in wooden structures. Also, this product can only be obtained in large quantities. Ammoniation should be done at 2.3% of dry matter content of grain. Outside stored grains would have to be covered and all precautions taken that exclude oxygen from the pile to ammoniate the grain. Both options, ammoniation and propionic acid treatment can be used, as a preservative for grain to be used for cattle feed, but not for sale at grain elevators.
  5. Layer or mix sprouted grain into the silo as other forage is being ensiled.
  6. Round bale silage or chopped silage options. Oxygen exclusion is difficult and spoilage losses can be high. Consider the use of a preservation agent.

Dealing With Mold Problems

  1. Discard severely molded grain.
  2. Feed to growing/finishing cattle at low levels. Monitor feed intake and gradually increase if no problems.
  3. Avoid feeding to pregnant/lactating animals.
  4. Make sure rations are balanced, especially for energy and vitamin A.
  5. A test for mold type and/or toxins may be advisable.

Sprouted grain should be stored outside and used early in the winter feeding period. Tested moisture content should be treated with some caution and 1 to 1.5% should be added to test off the combine. Ensure air circulation through stored grain to minimize spoilage. Aeration vents are best, however turning grain with an auger is also an option. Spoilage can be substantially reduced by ammoniation. This would require the pile to be covered with plastic to exclude oxygen for ammoniation. The ammoniation process would take at least 30 to 35 days to be complete, depending on environmental conditions. Another option is preserving sprouted grain as high moisture grain in a silo or potentially an Ag-Bag. The feeding value of sprouted grain remains virtually equal to that of non-sprouted grain, when fed by weight. Mold can be a concern and testing for mold levels and type are advisable as well as introducing the grains into the feeding program slowly and monitoring animal performance.

Prepared By:  John Popp, Ph.D., Karen Dupchak, M.Sc., Melinda German, M.Sc., 
Lyle McNichol, M.Sc. 
 Nutrition Update
Volume 13 No.3, February 2003