Growing forages in arid regions of the world is one of the biggest constraints to profitable intensive dairy production. Under these conditions dairy production systems rely heavily on forages that require less water together with mostly imported grain. In addition, dairy rations tend to include higher concentrate to forage ratios since it makes more economic sense to transport energy dense feeds (grain) than roughage.
In Israel for example, total mixed rations (TMR) fed to dairy cows contain 33–36% roughage, a bare minimum needed to supply 18–19 % neutral detergent fiber (NDF) needed in order to minimize the risk of acidosis. As a result, winter forages such as wheat (Triticum spp.) supply nearly 70% of the annual forage, complemented with corn silage during the summer irrigated with recycled water.
Wheat and barley forages
Nearly 40,000 Ha of wheat both for silage and hay are grown yearly as the main winter forage in Israel, followed by barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) with only 2,500 Ha for silage and 3,500 Ha as grain for feeding. Wheat is an important crop in this system since it provides flexibility, switching from grain to forage and vice versa depending on environmental conditions.
Barley’s yield, quality, and nutritive value are less known at the present time particularly of those cultivars grown for silage in the same fields and under similar conditions as wheat. One of the advantages of barley in this semi-arid environment is that it apparently uses water more efficiently, it has early vigor, and matures faster compared to wheat resulting in higher yields per Ha.