Concentrate feeds

Published 1 February 10


Concentrate Feeds

Concentrates for dairy feeding come in a perplexing variety of different individual ingredients, descriptions and forms, each with their own advantages and limitations.

Concentrates are good for:

  • Providing highly concentrated sources of nutrients to supplement forages.
  • Supplying valuable starch, sugar and proteins for ruminant digestion.
  • Offering a broad choice from individual ingredients to complete balanced supplements.

Concentrates provide the essential extra energy and protein dairy cows need on top of forages to support modern production levels. Concentrates must be carefully selected to balance the specific nutrients provided by the forages  available for the most efficient ruminant digestion, greatest cow productivity and most cost-effective herd performance.

Although home-grown cereals have traditionally been important in dairy rations and there is increasing interest in a variety of home-grown protein feeds, in most systems the majority of dairy concentrates are bought-in. Concentrates invariably have a higher unit cost than forages, although when their higher nutrient densities and dry matters are taken into account as well as the capital costs of forage production, differences in overall value tend to be very much less.

Main Concentrate Types:

  • Straights: Individual feed ingredients, either home-grown or purchased,
  • Blends: Unpelleted mixtures of ingredients in varying degrees of sophistication,
  • Compounds: Pelleted mixtures of ingredients, generally well-balanced and mineralised. The suitability of these different concentrates types for individual herds depends on facilities and feeding systems as well as relative cost and convenience.

 Back to Top


Key advantages:

  • Being known nutrient sources and analyses.
  • Offering good economy compared with compounds.
  • Providing complete flexibility to fine-tune rations as required.

Key Straights Points:

  • Different ingredients with similar names can have very differet nutrient values.
  • Quality and analyses can vary between loads.
  • Large loads are often necessary to secure the best prices.
  • Adequate, dry, vermin-free storage is required.
  • Minerals and vitamins will need to be added on-farm.
  • Sufficient farm ration formulation skill is required.

Home-grown Concentrates

Wheat, barley and oats have traditionally been used in ruminant feeding with triticale, peas and beans also being grown, combined and stored for feeding on some units. These feeds can either be stored dry or in moist form, treated with Propcorn, sodium hydroxide or other proprietary additives to minimise spoilage and wastage. Crimping will generally enhance the feeding characteristics of treated feeds stored moist. If stored dry the grain will need processing through a roller or hammer mill to ensure it can be thoroughly digested and utilised. Whether home-grown or purchased, cereals and pulses are useful suppliers of energy and crude protein to a diet.

Key Points for Home-Grown Concentrates : 

  • Care needs to be taken with inclusion rates, especially where the grains are finely ground.
  • Starchy energy from cereals can have a beneficial impact on milk protein production.
  • The readily fermentable energy in wheat, in particular, means acidosis can be a risk with high inclusions.
  • Peas and beans can be slightly unpalatable due to tannin levels.
  • Both cereals and pulses can safely be fed at up to 30% of the concentrate ration.
  • Less need for balancing than some other straights may add to their cost-effectiveness.

 Back to Top

Purchased Straights

Most of the wide range of other straight feed ingredients available are by-products of food or industrial processes, their nutritive value depending both on the value of their original raw materials and the way in which these have been processed.

The wide variation between different feeds is compounded by the fact they are often derived from a large number of different factories and countries, and may have been transported over long distances under a range of different conditions.

Key Purchased Straights Points:

  • The precise description and value of the feed should be obtained before purchase.
  • Analysis of each load can significantly improve the accuracy of rationing.
  • Some ingredients need particularly careful use in rations.
  • Over-processing and contamination can interfere with nutritive value.
  • Purchasing from a reputable source can reduce the risk of problems.
  • Mineral supplements will generally be needed.
  • Significant on-farm ration formulation work is required.

 Back to Top


Blends are essentially a half-way house between straights and compounds. They and straights are best utilised through forage boxes or mixer wagons.

Key advantages of Blends:

  • Known nutrient sources and analyses.
  • Offering some economy compared with compounds.
  •  Improving cash flow compared to large loads of individual straights.
  • Saving on farm mixing and ration formulation complexity.

Key Blends Points:

  • Different sources can differ widely in the sophistication of blending.
  • Mixing can be variable, depending on product.
  • Ingredients can separate out during storage and handling.
  • Quality and analyses can vary between loads.
  • Minerals and vitamins may or may not be included.
  • Adequate, dry, vermin-free storage is required.
  • Some degree of farm ration formulation skill is likely to be required.

 Back to Top


Proprietary compound feeds represent the ultimate in sophistication and convenience as far as dairy concentrates are concerned, the supplier taking on all responsibility for formulation. They can be fed through both in and out-of-parlour feeding systems as well as in midday mixes, forage boxes and mixer wagons.

Key advantages of Compounds:

  • Being nutritionally consistent from pellet to pellet.
  • Giving no opportunity for ingredient selection during feeding.
  • Offering fully balanced feeds with mineral and vitamin inclusions.
  • Providing the greatest ease and convenience of use.
  • Improving cash flow compared to blends or straights.
  • No farm mixing or ration formulation required. 

Key Compounds Points:

  • Formulation and processing makes them more expensive than either straights or blends.
  • Little information may be provided on the precise ingredients or formulation.
  • The only flexibility offered to adjust rationing is by the amount fed.
  • On most units it is generally difficulty to store more than two compounds simultaneously.
  • The consistency and quality of pelleting may vary between suppliers, mills and deliveries.

 Back to Top