A hardy grain that has adapted well to Montana’s cool climate, high altitudes, and scant rainfall. In Montana, all barley is planted in the spring, stalks produce only a few leaves before forming a spike, or head. The heads develop seeds, there are usually six rows of seeds (although some varieties of barley only have two rows). Once the seeds are fully mature, the plant dies, and starts to dry out, the fields will be light gold before they are harvested. Barley fields are usually a much lighter gold than wheat fields. Barley does well both under irrigation and as a dryland crop.
Almost all of Montana’s barley is used either for livestock feed or turned into malt for beer. Some is used for human consumption in cereals and bread. Barley can also be harvested while still green for hay, or left in the field for livestock pasture. To make barley malt for beer, cereals, and malted milkshakes, producers store the grain in water until roots start to sprout. The seeds are then dried and crushed. The crushed seeds are added to warm water, which pulls out the sugars. The water is boiled to make malt syrup, and the left-over crushed seeds make excellent livestock feed.