We have been fortunate to arrange a weekly pick up spent barley from a local brewery that purchases their grain from a company with sustainable practices and uses non-gmo grain. After researching high and low, we have not found much information out there on the amount of spent grain that can be added to the diets of poultry and ruminants on the small farm scene. So we have been experimenting with the spent barley as a supplemental livestock feed over the last few weeks and have made some interesting observations. Our laying hens and ducks eat all the wet grain we give them but do not seem to be laying more eggs with the change in diet. The goats and cows LOVE the grain! They were not previously getting any grain and were fed mostly alfalfa and orchard grass. The addition of spent grain has significantly increased their daily milk production. We have been giving it only with morning feedings, starting out with small amounts and increasing slowly to allow their systems to adjust to the new food.
Since spent grain has already gone through a mashing and lautering process, it is much easier to digest than regular grain as the hulls have already been broken down leaving behind some carbohydrates and mostly proteins. For us, this is basically a free protein rich feed we can give our animals that cuts our feed bills in half. One of our goals over the next few months will be to work out proper ratios of other ingredients to create our own nourishing layer mix with spent barley as the base. Ideally these will be ingredients we can grow ourselves or source locally.
Joel Salatin says something interesting about feeding spent grain to dairy cattle. When the Industrial Revolution was changing the infrastructure of cities, dairies sprang up around breweries in order to feed the distiller's grain to the cattle. However, it made the pH of the cattle's rumen much more acidic and changed the milk. I imagine this was with cattle fed on only spent grain or a large amount. We will see how it goes with adding it in as a supplement in moderation along with continuing the same amount of hay and fresh vegis.
Feeding our animals what we produce (or recycling other's waste products that we can obtain close by for free) is all part of our bigger plan. Cutting back on purchasing commercial layer pellets and adding spent grain to the equation brings us a few steps closer to our goal of obtaining a closed loop system on our small farm.