How To Store Barley: A Simple Guide

The best way of storing uncooked barley at home is in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. If you want to use it for animal feed on your homestead, place it into plastic drums with a tightly fitting lid. This will prevent vermin or insects from contaminating the barley. If you continue reading, you’ll discover more about how to store barley on both a large and small scale. 

How do you Store Barley Long Term?

how do you store barley long term

When storing bulk quantities of barley grain for use in animal feed or for the beer or whiskey industry, the length of time it can be kept and stay good depends on several things:

  • How it was harvested
  • Processing methods used
  • How it is stored

Analysis

If you need to store large volumes of barley, the only way of knowing the condition of the grain is to have it professionally analyzed. This allows for a full understanding of the moisture content, protein levels, and if you want to know what its energy and macronutrient levels are.

For animal feed, testing the grain in fall is best, as you will presumably be feeding it to your animals over late fall and winter. 

Having the feed tested allows you to make any necessary adjustments to additives you give to your livestock, should they be required.

Storage Time and Processing

The amount of time you can store whole grains successfully is longer than that of processed ones. This is because processing breaks down the tough outer husk that acts as a protective shield for the grain. 

Processing typically decreases storage time by half or more. Other influencing factors include weather conditions, moisture, humidity, airflow, and pests.

Kept in optimum conditions, large quantities of barley can be kept for a year or more without any significant loss of quality.

Rolled barley has a shorter keep life than whole barley. But the time of year the barley is processed also has a substantial effect on this. 

Barley rolled in winter can remain in good condition for up to six months, while that rolled in summer will generally only last for three months. This is primarily because of heat, humidity, and insect pests.

One of the problems with grain is that there is a percentage of field loss. If it could be harvested as soon as it was ripe but not yet fully dry, then this loss would be significantly diminished. 

There are processes such as fermenting and applying organic acids that can achieve this and we will look at these more closely below.

Drying and Toxins

If you aren’t going to ferment or apply organic acids to your grain it must be allowed  to dry fully in the field before harvesting. If the moisture content is higher than 15.5%, then it will likely rot. For grain with moisture content exceeding 17%, the heat produced during rotting can cause a fire.

Due to the risk of toxins, spoiled grain cannot be fed. These toxins are produced by micro-organisms that are present in the soil. Aflatoxins are not only a danger to animals but to humans too. 

Contamination by these micro-organisms happens while the crop is growing and when it is being harvested, as dust from the soil becomes mixed with the grain. 

Grain can be dried after harvest by using drying rooms, which are now very old-fashioned. This is where the grain is spread out thinly on the floor of a dry barn or other building and raked over daily until moisture has evaporated. The level of success with this is quite variable and very wet grain cannot be dried in this way.

Special fans can be used in large silos that will help dry the grain to some extent. Neither are ideal, as using the barn drying method runs the risk of rodents contaminating the grain or insects infiltrating it, or the grain sprouting. 

If the grain can’t be dried, then another method of preventing micro-organisms from growing must be used. 

Fermenting

This can be done by treating the grain, like silage, and promoting anaerobic, acid-producing bacteria that ferment the sugars and carbohydrates in the barley. The acids produced by this process prevent bacterial action from taking place and preserve the feed.

To store fermented barley correctly, it must attain a pH of between 4 and 5, the moisture content is also critical. If the barley is too dry or not packed tightly enough, the amount of oxygen present will cause yeast and mold to grow and rot the feed.

The grain can be hammered or rolled to help improve packing and remove more oxygen. To check the moisture content is good (25 to 35 percent) squeeze a handful of the fermented food, and it should stick together if it is whole barley or clump if it is rolled.

If the feed is too dry, it will fall apart in your hand when you squeeze it. 

Should you decide to produce this type of fermented barley for your livestock, it may be necessary to add additional water to the harvested grain to get it to 25% moisture content.

Whatever type of silo you have, it must be airtight with a good seal that is easily maintained. Any air entering the silo during fermentation will destroy the entire batch.

The use of several layers of plastic sheeting can help prevent air ingress. This must be very well weighted down. Netting that is firmly secured is helpful for this job, as it is also lightweight and easy to remove.

Temperatures at or below freezing won’t harm this type of feed, although some caking may occur. Heat during warm weather is more of a problem, especially if you are in the process of feeding the batch. In this instance, it is necessary to match the amount of feed you are giving daily to the size of the hole where the feed is being exposed to oxygen. 

Do not re-cover feed that has been opened to the air, as this will actually cause it to spoil faster. Only expose the amount of feed you are going to use that day (three inches deep).

Upright oxygen limiting silos are the best kind of storage for this type of feed. They eliminate more oxygen and cause less feed wastage.

Well-fermented barley should have a distinctive fermented, non-moldy, smell and a relatively uniform brownish yellow color.

This type of fermented feed can be given straight from the silo.

Organic Acids

Another way to preserve grain is by using organic acids such as propionic or acetic acid. 

If these acids are applied to grain while it is damp, it will destroy around 90% of the organisms that can spoil the barley. It then inhibits the remaining 10% from proliferating.

Exposure to dirt, moisture, or wood surfaces can increase the molding of stored grain and any surfaces that are going to come into contact with the grain should be painted or covered with plastic.  

As organic acids are corrosive, the grain must be stored in something that is non-corrosive. This could be in a non-metallic grain bin, in a shed, or barn floor. It is possible to place the grain on plastic sheeting outside and cover it with more plastic to keep it clean and protected.

Moisture content for barley treated with organic acids should range from 18 to 25%. It is essential that the acid is spread evenly throughout the grain and covers it entirely. Special applicators are available for this, and machines have been developed for the job.

Acid-treated grain can be stored for a year or more and is considered safe to feed to most farm animals. Sheep and cattle naturally form these organic acids as part of natural digestion. Meat and milk quality are unaffected.

Other significant advantages of harvesting grain before it is dry, are a higher yield and earlier harvesting date. It is also more palatable to cattle and reduces scouring.

Smaller-Scale

If you want to store smaller quantities of grain for animal feed or for use in home brewing, large plastic drums with tightly fitting lids will be your best option. The thick plastic of these drums is reasonably impervious to rats, and they can be stacked easily to take up a minimum amount of space.

Keeping the drums inside a building will further help to preserve the grain, maintaining it at a fairly even temperature. 

Barley can be taken from the drums easily as needed, and the amount of spoilage will be minimal. 

If using the small-scale method, roll your barley in batches as you need it. Processing it all into rolled barley before storage will shorten its life by half.

Storing barley for use in your kitchen follows the same kind of principles. Use airtight containers with close-fitting lids and keep it somewhere cool and dry. 

You can even choose to vacuum seal your barley to extend its life even further. You can see how this is done in this video:

How Long Can You Store Barley?

Whole barley can be stored in airtight containers for a year to 24 months under the right conditions, while rolled barley will only last for 3 to 6 months.

Remember that barley has three enemies when it comes to storage:

  • Heat
  • Air
  • Moisture

Always use airtight containers with tightly fitting lids. Glass Kilner jars with rubber seals are a good choice. Aluminum canisters with a rubber seal on the top or even zip lock bags can work well too.  

Mark the container with the date, so you know how old the barley is. Keep in mind that the older the barley, the more nutrients will be lost from it. 

Does Uncooked Barley Expire?

Yes, uncooked barley does expire, and although keeping it in optimum conditions, it will likely remain good past its “Best Before” date, it won’t stay edible indefinitely.

Over time the color, flavor, and texture of the barley may change, and nutrients will be lost.

Always look carefully at the barley before using it. Discard it if it has a foul odor or if you see any kind of mold or insect presence.

How Long Does Dried Barley Last?

When stored correctly, whole, uncooked barley should last for 12 to 24 months at room temperature, providing it is kept in an airtight container that is securely closed.

Once cooked, barley should be placed into an airtight container and put in the fridge. There it will keep for 3 to 5 days. Or you can freeze it for up to one month.

Can You Freeze Barley?

Barley can be frozen both uncooked and cooked. One advantage to freezing barley is that insect pests can be avoided. 

Whole barley will stay good in a freezer for the same length of time as if it is kept in an airtight container at room temperature. But cooked barley will keep for around a month. 

Conclusion

Whatever reason you have to store barley, be it in large quantities for feeding to animals, for use in beer making (here’s our barley wine recipe), or just for adding to meals at home, the conditions in which it needs to be stored remain the same.

  • Heat
  • Moisture
  • Insects
  • Vermin

These are all your enemies and need to be avoided at all costs.

Keeping the grain clean, dry and tightly sealed is the best way of preserving it.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about how to store barley, then you may like our other barley articles. Information about other crops and animals can also be found on our website.

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