Roasting adds mileage to your homegrown grains

Midwest Grain Roasters units come to farms totally self-contained, including augers.

A steady increase of roasting of homegrown soybeans, corn, oats, barley and wheat is happening for dairy cattle and hogs. Even beef cattle are enjoying the “new taste” of their rations. Livestock growers are also finding roasting is a convenient way to salvage “off-flavor” grains.

Roasting soybeans started 20-some years ago as a means to reduce bypass protein in dairy rations. And now corn has become a big-ticket item for roasting.

At the recent Midwest Dairy Expo in St. Cloud, Dieter Harle, agricultural consultant with Midwest Grain Roasters, a Dodgeville, Wis., firm, said that roasting is gaining popularity.

“Interest is building and $4 corn, $10 wheat and soybeans is partly why,” Harle said. “Corn and other small grains roasted, then ground fine for TMR (total mixed rations), is gaining momentum everywhere. Roasting is extremely helpful for calf feed, and roasting is a convenient way of salvaging ‘feed quality’ grain out of stored corn that may have accumulated a few pockets of spoilage in storage.”

Roasting gelatinizes the starch content of the grain, changing the saturated fat into unsaturated fat. Also, carbohydrates are changed to sugar, and molds are destroyed. In essence, the roasting process makes grain more palatable and also more digestible. That is why research indicates farmers can feed about 10 percent less grain when it is roasted. There is simply a higher digestibility of the grain.

Researcher Glen Broderick, tested 40 mature cows averaging 86 pounds daily milk at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis. Broderick compared roasted corn rations versus conventional ground corn rations. Results showed roasting resulted in an increase in daily dry matter intake, an additional two pounds milk per day, and gains in milk protein, butterfat and solids, not fat, along with a slight decrease in milk urea nitrogen. Protein ration was 17.1 percent.

Another roasting benefit, especially in small grains where various toxins and vomitoxins often exist is that the flame roasting process minimizes “off flavor” and potential digestive upsets. North Dakota State University trials with toxin-damaged wheat and barley found these products could be safely fed after the roasting process.

“It’s not the perfect solution to spoiled grains, but it generally gives you feed-grain quality from grains that would be heavily discounted, if not totally rejected, if hauled to the elevator,” Harle said.

Midwest Grain Roasters units come to farms totally self-contained, including augers. A diesel-powered generator provides the electricity to augers needed to move the grain from bins to the roaster unit. A propane-fired boiler provides the heat for roasting.

“All the farmer needs to provide is wagons for ‘proper steeping’ of the roasted grain. We talk about the roasted grain ‘curing through’ which really means nothing more than giving it enough time to cool down prior to mixing,” Harle said. He used the term “sweating down,” or the exchange of the ambient temperature of the freshly roasted grain. Because roasting lowers moisture to only about 10 percent, subsequent storage in airtight bins is no problem.

Costs vary depending upon tonnage with rates from $25 to $40 a ton (1 cent to 1 1/2 cents per pound) so a 3,000 bushel “roast” would be $30 a ton. There is no set-up cost. These units do about eight to 10 tons per hour. That’s roughly 400 bushels, so a 2,000-bushel roast would be about a five-hour job.

A telephone call lets farmers connect with Midwest Grain Roasters. Eric Hamilton, general manager of the firm, welcomes phone calls.

“If necessary we’ll come to your farm to check out your facilities so we can be very accurate in estimating our costs for a given job. But I think success speaks for itself. Once we do an on-farm roasting operation, most customers either call again when needed, or they set up a four- to five-month schedule for us to routinely just show up and do the job,” Hamilton said.

They have traveled east to Ohio and west to Idaho, but the Upper Midwest is their key trade area. “As grain prices keep going up, that extra 10 percent improvement in feed efficiency by roasting takes on even more value. Plus, most livestock producers inherently prefer to use their own homegrown grains in their livestock operations. Today it’s both a quality issue and a safety issue,” Hamilton said.

Harle noted that as farm operations get larger, harvest operations get squeezed even more.

“Granted this was nearly a perfect fall for dry down in the field, but even so, a lot of 17 to 18 percent moisture corn got put into steel bins this fall. Often this grain doesn’t get cooled down soon enough and you have white mold spots.

“Your dairy cows will drop production if these moldy grains are mixed into their rations. But roasting negates the mold issue. We’ve seen production bounce back after roasting this type of grain,” Harle said.

Grain moves through an open flame with temperature between 170 F and 275 F. “The roasting process gives corn a ‘caramelized’ flavor that livestock really seem to enjoy,” Harle said.

Carver County dairyman Bryan Buesgens has been roasting his soybeans for his 200-cow dairy herd for nearly 10 years.

“My reason was to capture that bypass protein. We feed about four pounds per day in our TMR ration,” Buesgens said. He only gives it to the high-producing group and the heifer group. There’s no advantage to providing this ration to low producers and cattle at the tail end of their lactation.

Bypass protein values for soybean meal range from 36 percent to 45 percent depending upon the crushing procedure and the content of the soy hulls.

He also feeds distillers grain and soybean meal as part of the TMR mix. “You’ve still got to feed protein. Roasting is one way, however, to capture the bypass protein,” Buesgens said.

“Tastes good enough, I chew on the roasted beans myself.”

He also grinds the beans after roasting though admits he’s not certain that needs to be done. Roasting 2,500 bushels of soybeans is essentially an all-day process. He sets up a 100-bushel bin, which keeps refilling as the roaster draws from this bin. Freshly roasted beans then get dumped into his truck in three big gravity boxes for the one-day “cool down” before storage in a wooden bin.

As expected, dairy farmers are the No. 1 customers for Midwest Grain Roasters. However, hog producers are rapidly coming on board, too, perhaps because roasting the corn improves taste. This lets farmers eliminate the flavor enhancers often needed to encourage maximum daily feed intake.

Midwest Grain Roasters’ website is For more information on feeding values of roasted grains, log on to