Oaten hay gets a big tick in forage research

PhD student Zelin Li is researching how hay can improve animal production.

A new study has shown that high-quality oaten hay may support higher levels of animal production performance than other forages.

The AgriFutures Australia and University of Melbourne research is looking into the use of oaten hay to support the sustainable development of dairy production.

The study could lead to an expansion of the Australian export fodder market, along with delivering animal health, production and environmental benefits for the Australian dairy industry.

The research by PhD student Zelin Li is being supervised and led by University of Melbourne livestock nutrition and grazing management senior lecturer Dr (Paul) Long Cheng.

Preliminary results based on an in vitro rumen fermentation analysis indicate major differences across different forages in gas production, dry matter (DM) disappearance, ammonia, volatile fatty acids, methane production and pH change.

Gas production and DM disappearance can indicate potential animal production performance.

The analysis shows high-quality oaten hay and high-quality barley hay had the highest gas production, while high-quality oaten hay had the highest DM disappearance.

“Based on the in vitro analysis, the results indicated that high quality oaten hay may support a higher level of animal production performance than other forage tested,” Mr Li said.

The in-vitro experiment used the Ankom RF Gas Production System, which can mimic the rumen function of cattle.

“Gas production tells us a story about digestibility because the more cattle digest in rumen, the more that is turned into gas,” Dr Cheng said.

Mr Li described hay as an essential component in animal diets, providing the necessary fibre, energy and nutrients for growth and development but added “not all hay is the same”.

Dr Cheng said there had been little international research into the topic.

“Anecdotally we know oaten hay is much more than a fibre source — it has the potential to improve animal health and overall production,” he said.

“This study is a unique opportunity to demonstrate the quality of the product.”

The study assessed high and low-quality levels of seven different types of conserved forage, including wheat hay, barley hay, timothy hay, rye-grass hay, lucerne hay and corn silage.

The nutritive value analysis showed high and low-quality oaten hay had DM = 88% vs 93%, neutral detergent fibre = 47% vs 58%, and water soluble carbohydrate = 25% vs 14%, respectively.

“The overall fermentability of high-quality oaten hay was significantly better than other hay or roughage,” Mr Li said.

He said his future PhD animal studies would focus on obtaining fundamental information about how much of the oaten hay in the diet can be used by different classes of animals to deliver an optimal performance.

A cattle growth trial proposal has been submitted for approval to the University of Melbourne animal ethics committee.

The field trial will be at the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus, near Shepparton.