Beef and forage issues series – smooth versus rough awns


Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

This six part series looks at various beef and forage related issues discussed during a recent tour of east-central Alberta farms.

A pilot project aimed to help Alberta producers adopt new technology and innovation recently brought ranchers and farmers together with experts and scientists.

The group conducting this project included researchers at the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre (ABFGC) along with specialists at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF), members of the Alberta Beef Producers and the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta.

“Messages from research trials and extension meetings don’t always get interpreted the same way by everyone who hears them,” explained Susan Markus, beef research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“Often, the results from a research trial must be carefully explained to ensure the audience understands the specific conditions and variables that were and were not controlled for before it can be adopted and implemented on farm.”

She said that that these specifics can make scientific discoveries or new technologies less relatable for a farmer or rancher if it seems too different from how they want to operate.

“Sometimes speakers at farm meetings do not give specific enough information for a producer to decide if the information or technology works under their situation,” she added. “Farmers are busy people and they look for the most efficient way – and hopefully easiest way – to take advantage of an opportunity or to solve a problem. We all want solutions that are quick, easy and affordable, but we know that is not always the case.”

Looking at smooth versus rough awns, Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, said that he has heard from many cattle feeders who worry about mouth abscesses and lesions caused by rough awned cereals over the years.

“If you are the producer of a cereal crop, you will take into account operating costs with yield outcomes. Assume less than a 1% incidence of mouth lesions from cattle consuming awned crops, but superior yield under drought conditions compared to awnless. That means you take the chance and grow those varieties. The reality is that under a drought, the less hardy smooth awned varieties will not produce – leaving a rancher short of feed. A low incidence of mouth lesions is a small price to pay to ensure feed for the entire herd.”

Barley breeder Pat Juskiw with AF in Lacombe said that certain beneficial traits, which address industry’s concerns, can be bred into plants to make new varieties. She added that there will almost certainly be trade-offs.

“Those trade-offs might be sacrificing grain yield or plant digestibility to get increased lodging resistance, plant height or leaf matter. However, if at seeding time, a producer is playing the odds and possibly considering an end use requiring a malting grade, then barbs may be part of the risk, as is growing a two-rowed variety for swath-grazing. Smooth awns in six-row barley are now an industry standard. In two-row barley there has been push back on smooth awns due to end-use risks associated with loss of quality especially in malting types.”

For more information about this pilot project and series, contact Susan Markus:



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