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Options for lowest-cost rations

Rising grain costs in Manitoba have made our family very glad our beef herd is grass based. The rest of our livestock still depends on grain for feed. When we realized our oat bin was getting low and oats were sitting at about $0.15 a pound, it was time to research some different ideas.

One of the most successful products we have used is field peas ground finely in combination with field pea screenings and other grains. Whole peas are also available from a local processing plant but without proper milling machinery they are unacceptable feed for small ruminants because they can damage teeth. The field peas are very palatable; protein usually ranges from 20 to 27 per cent and energy from 88 to 90 per cent total digestible nutrients (TDN), making them a great choice for creep feeds.

Luckily, our local processing plant feed tests its screenings, which average about 10 per cent protein, making them a great base grain for a ration.


An organic farmer friend asked us if we could use some buckwheat to mix with the peas. Always up for a research project, I discovered buckwheat is a very acceptable feed for livestock.

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is actually not a grain — it’s related to rhubarb — but has the same general nutritive characteristics as cereal grains. It has a lower feeding value than wheat, oats, barley, rye or corn, with a protein level of about 10 per cent.

We had great success soaking whole buckwheat overnight to feed to poultry but for other types of livestock it would need to be ground due to the hulls.

Buckwheat contains a compound called fagopyrin which can cause photosensitivity, rashes on the skin and itching behavior when exposed to sunlight. Only white or light-coloured areas of the hide are affected. The animals become photosensitive after consuming large amounts of buckwheat for an extended period. Buckwheat should be limited to 20 to 25 per cent of the concentrate mixture.

Since we didn’t have a grain crusher available, we reserved the buckwheat experiment for only poultry. They were very healthy and grew very well with this in their feed mix.


The other grain we gained a bit of experience with this summer was spelt. We found some that had been saved for seed but it had a low germination rate. It was wonderful for feed. My only previous experience with spelt was for baking bread so this project was very enlightening.

Spelt’s total protein content varies from 13.1 to 14.3 per cent, depending on climate and soil conditions. It is higher than soft wheat (10.5 per cent) and spring wheat (9.1 per cent) but similar to durum wheat (13.8 per cent). The sequence of amino acids also differs between spelt and wheat; spelt contains more cystine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine and neurotransmitters, phenylalanine and tryptophane.

In comparison with other grains spelt has generally more vitamins and basic minerals.

Sunflower seeds

The other feed that we have been blessed with a steady supply of is black oil sunflower seeds. These are not only high in protein but they are also a source of vitamin E and copper for our goats.

Pearson square

My favourite tool for mixing rations is the Pearson square. This is a mathematical tool that takes all the guesswork out of combining available components to form a ration suitable for livestock.

Although I have only used it for protein, it can also be used for TDN, amino acids, or vitamins. I use the Pearson square when I am combining two ingredients with different protein levels.

For example, if I have a grain that is 10 per cent protein and I have pea screenings with a 20 per cent protein value, I can use the Pearson square to quickly calculate how many parts of each I need to achieve a 16 per cent protein ration.

The Pearson square is a simple diagram of five numbers. To perform the calculations, subtract the figure in the bottom left corner from the centre number. Write the result in the top right corner. This is the part of grain needs to be included in the ration. Then subtract the number in the centre from the top left number, and write the result in the bottom right corner. This is the part of peas that need to be mixed with the grain to achieve a 16 per cent ration. So, for every four units of measure I use for grain I need to add six parts of equal measure of peas.

Since most of our grain choices are approximately $0.10 a pound and pea screening/fine grounds average $0.06 a pound, the resulting mix would cost approximately $0.08 cents a pound.

Many provincial government nutritionists have told us that protein is the most expensive component of the diet, and they are more than willing to help with rations. Using the resources of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiative (MAFRI) is beneficial because they have all the latest technology at their disposal and farmers can usually use it for free.

To make using the Pearson square more convenient, I found a free download online at (search for “Pearson”).

Learning all we did this summer about feeding alternative energy sources was very educational. We are very hopeful that our winter-feeding will go smoothly and that all our fellow farmers that are struggling with low crop and hay yields will make it another year. Sometimes it just takes a bit of exploration to unveil more affordable feeding possibilities. †

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