Barley grain is characterized by a thick fibrous coat, a high level of β-glucans and simply-arranged starch granules. World production of barley is about 30% of that of corn.
In comparison with corn, barley has more protein, methionine, lysine, cysteine and tryptophan. For ruminants, barley is the third most readily degradable cereal behind only oats and wheat.
Due to its more rapid starch fermentation rate compared with corn, barley also provides a more synchronous release of energy and nitrogen, thereby improving microbial nutrient assimilation. As a result, feeding barley can reduce the need for feeding protected protein sources.
However, this benefit is only realized if rumen acidity is maintained within an optimal range (pH between e.g. 5.8 and 6.0) and below this range, microbial maintenance requirements and wastage increase.
With a low pH, microbial endotoxines cause pro-inflammatory responses that can weaken immunity and shorten animal longevity.
Thus, mismanagement in barley processing and feeding may make a tragedy from this treasure or pearl of cereal grains. Steam-rolling of barley may improve feed efficiency and post-rumen starch digestion.
However, it is doubtful if such processing can improve milk production and feed intake. Due to the need to process barley less extensively than other cereals (as long as the pericarp is broken), consistent and global standards for feeding and processing barley could be feasibly established.
In high-starch diets, barley feeding reduces the need for capacious small intestinal starch assimilation, subsequently reducing hindgut starch use and faecal nutrient loss.
With its nutritional exclusivities underlined, barley use will be a factual art that can either matchlessly profit or harm rumen microbes, cattle production, farm economics and the environment.