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The Cattle Blog

Storage Life of Livestock Feeds - Frequently Asked Questions

With all the moisture floating in the air after all the rains, it is important to keep vigil on your feedstuffs.  This article is very good.

Grains and roughages have varying "shelf lives" depending on how they were harvested, processed and stored. Becoming familiar with how certain processes affect livestock feeds will enable you to retain quality and palatability from these feeds. Being aware of proper storage conditions and recommended shelf life will also help you to reduce waste and maintain consistent performance when feeding livestock.

The only way to know what quality of feed you are feeding is to submit samples for nutrient analysis. Understanding and interpreting moisture level, protein, energy and some macro minerals will enable you to develop a suitable ration for your livestock. Feed test in the fall and keep these tips on storage times in mind so adjustments to the feeding program can be made if necessary.

What affects storage time of processed grains?
Whole grains and oilseeds have longer storage lives than processed grains. The amount of fat in grain will directly impact storage time. High fat grains and oilseeds (oats, canola, flax, and sunflower) once processed (dry rolled, cracked) will decrease their storage by at least half. If weather or season changes, storage time, as a general rule, can again be decreased by half. For example, whole oats and barley if properly stored under consistent moisture and humidity will keep for at least one year without a loss in quality. If barley (1.5% fat) is dry rolled in the fall or winter, its storage life will be close to 6 months. However, if it is rolled in the summer, expect 3 months of storage before palatability becomes a concern when feeding. Since oats has 3.5% fat if it is rolled in the fall expect 3 to 4 months of storage. Whereas, if rolling oats in the summer, expect only 3 weeks of storage before the grain starts to go rancid, moldy and off taste.

How does heat or moisture processing of grain affect storage life?
Heat treated feeds like pelleted grains or by-products will have increased storage value as the heating process will kill some of the bacteria. Expect at least 3 months and up to 6 months storage from any heat treated pellet. Tempering or steam rolling facilitates processing grains of different sizes and reduces dust, but since it increases moisture content by 4 to 8% storage times must be less than 1 or 2 days to minimize heating and spoilage.

What factors influence storage times of roughages?
Moisture is likely the number one limiting factor of storage life for roughages. If the moisture content of a mixture of tub ground feed exceeds 15%, it should be used up within a few days to avoid heating and digestive upsets. High-moisture grain and silage must be fed up within a day or two of leaving their storage facility as they tend to mold quickly if left in feeders.

Anhydrous ammonia treatment on roughages acts as a preservative and helps to prevent overheating as bacteria and molds are destroyed. Storage of these high moisture bales will be increased by up to 6 months in addition to increased feed quality.

Large round hay bales can lose a significant portion of dry matter within the first year. Uncovered forage stacks can lose up to 30% DM whereas covered stacks may lose between 5 and 15% dry matter. How bales are harvested, handled and amount of rain or moisture they receive can impact optimum storage life. In the case of forage, quality losses ( protein and energy content) do occur over time. The viability of vitamins in cut hay can be up to 60 days post harvest with very little after that period of time. Whereas, in silage, the ensiling process renders vitamins inefficient.

Round bale silage should be fed within 6 months to a year from being harvested. Whereas, pit silage if properly packed and sealed can be stored for up to 2 to 3 years with minimal quality losses. Initial quality and moisture content at harvest will certainly impact length of storage.

If feed additives are added to commercially prepared feeds how long can they be stored?
The addition of minerals and vitamins or medicines into feeds also impacts storage time. The efficiency of most vitamins and some minerals will be reduced if in storage longer than 3 months. Consult with the manufacturer for storage times on medications added to feeds.