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Nov 14, 2022

How to make the most out of home-grown forage in winter rations

Nov 14, 2022

Taking steps to maximise intake of home-grown forage and the digestion of fibre in the rumen will help dairy and beef farmers navigate this challenging period of high input costs.

Despite reports of mixed quality grass silage and an elevated toxin risk in maize silage, Lientjie Colahan – technical sales support at Lallemand Animal Nutrition – believes farmers can weather the storm by following her simple tips.

Measure and test forage stocks

Calculate how much home-grown forage you’ve got available this winter and test the forage to assess its quality.

Tell-tale signs of problems in silage include discolouration, a prolonged bad smell, or steam continuing to come off it after you’ve removed it from the clamp or bale.

And when testing, a key parameter that flags a problem is ash – if this is 10% or higher it shows there’s soil or slurry contamination in the forage.

Silage pH can be another indicator of problems with the preferred pH dependant on a silages dry matter and nutrient content. The wetter the silage and higher the protein content the lower the pH needed to preserve it effectively. Having too high a silage pH can lead to nutrient losses, whereas a silage pH that’s lower than necessary only serves to increase the acid load on the rumen.

Once you have analysed your home-grown forage, and worked out how much you have, work with your nutritionist to formulate rations accurately based on the results.

Remove spoiled silage from the ration

Although it’s too late to influence the quality of the silage in the clamp and you must work with what you have got, don’t be tempted to feed silage that’s visibly contaminated.

Feeding cattle the best quality forage that you can, and removing any spoilage, is a key driver for ensuring intake.

A trial carried out in America in 2000 looked at the effect of feeding spoiled silage – even in small amounts – to cross-bred steers[1].

It found that steers only fed good quality silage ate more feed and had higher forage digestibility in their rumen, compared to those that were fed spoiled silage.

It also found that the rumen mat – which stimulates the rumen to contract and mix feed together – completely disintegrated in cattle fed spoiled silage.

This highlights the importance of removing any visibly spoiled silage, from both bales and the clamp, as soon as you see it.

Even a small amount of spoiled silage will have a negative impact on feed intake and rumen function – this means the diet as a whole will not be utilised properly if cattle are also fed spoiled forage.

Make changes to boost your fibre digestibility


How and what a cow is fed is the biggest contributor to how efficiently the rumen breaks down valuable fibre.

However, the physiological status of the animal – such as environmental temperature, stocking density and feed and water access – can also have a big impact on ruminal fibre degradation.

Simple ways to boost fibre digestion include:

  1. Feed little and often – aim to feed more than once a day and push up feed regularly to increase meal frequency. Dairy cows are stimulated to eat after milking so push up existing feed and time fresh feed provision for between milking times, rather than straight after.
  2. Avoid overcrowding – pay close attention to your stocking density because competing for feed at the barrier or limited eating time reduces intakes. Aim to have a barrier space of 1m per cow during the dry period and at least 75cm per cow in the fresh group.
  3. Provide free access salt – a cow naturally balances the pH of her rumen by producing sodium bicarbonate in her saliva while she is cudding. Giving her free access salt supports this process.

Feed a rumen-specific live yeast

Feeding a rumen-specific live yeast, such as Levucell SC, will enhance the rumen’s ability to deal with stresses – including low quality forage or spoiled forage.

The live yeast works by scavenging oxygen in the rumen, which creates a more anaerobic environment – this helps the positive microbes, which digest fibre, to flourish.

Trials show dairy cows fed Levucell SC as part of their daily ration experienced an average increase in milk yields of 1.1kg per day, as well as a 3% improvement in feed efficiency[2].

When fed to beef cattle, the live yeast resulted in an increase in average daily liveweight gains of 3-6%[3].


[1] Effect of level of surface-spoiled silage on the nutritive value of corn silage-based rations (

[2] Global Meta-analysis, 14 research trials, 1,615 cows, (De Ondarza and Sniffen, 2010)

[3] Specific Live Yeast: LEVUCELL SC | Lallemand Animal Nutrition