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May 15, 2020

Invest in forage quality to reduce winter feed costs

May 15, 2020

Roy Eastlake,  Technical Support Manager, UK & Ireland suggests a focus on forage quality in the next few months can significantly reduce the impact on margins,

With rising feed prices and reduced milk prices, Mr Eastlake says the way to lessen the impact of a price squeeze is to reduce purchased feed rates. He observes that many farmers have already cut back on concentrates and have not seen milk fall as much as expected.

He suggests that this demonstrates two things; firstly that marginal litres are not produced efficiently, and second that dairy cows compensate for a reduction in concentrates by eating more forage.

“If you can make more silage, and ensure it is better quality you will be able to reduce concentrate feed rates and feed costs. Focussing on improving energy content and reducing clamp and fermentation losses is the key, with savings adding up to around £70/cow.”

He says typically, dairy farmers will aim to make 10 tonnes freshweight of silage per cow which at 30 percent dry matter gives three tonnes of dry matter made per cow. However, around 20% will be wasted, giving 2400kg of dry matter actually fed.

“If we can increase the average energy content by just 0.5 MJ from 10.8 to 11.3MJ, we can immediately produce an additional 1200MJ from silage and save nearly 100kg of concentrates.”

He says the biggest opportunity comes from reducing silage waste and insists that with closer attention to detail at harvest, at clamping and during feedout it is easily possible to reduce waste by a third, from 20 percent down to 13 percent.

“For our typical herd this gives an additional 210kg DM per dary cow. At 11.3MJ this would give another additional 2370MJ. By focussing on quality, it should be possible to produce an additional 3570MJ/cow, allowing a saving of 280kg of concentrates, reducing feed bills by £70/cow over the winter.”

He says there are still real opportunities to improve forage quality this season if farmers plan now. The starting point is the plan for second and subsequent cuts, and in particular working out the target cutting date to maximise quality.

“You must take your second cut grass silage at the optimum stage and don’t want to have to wait for nitrate levels to be low enough. Key to this is avoiding applying more nitrogen than you need.

“Then use pre-cut grass testing to make sure the crop is in optimum condition to cut. Grass for silage should have Nitrates  below 1000mg/kg, sugars should be a minimum 15% in the dry matter and you want to harvest at 20%DM and pick up at 30-32%DM after wilting.”

He comments that second cut of grass silage is often made in hot weather so steps must be taken to avoid field and respiration losses. He advises making silage in a day, only cutting what can be picked up within 24 hours.

“Grass will dry out quickly so don’t leave it down in the field too long as all you are doing is letting energy levels decline. And don’t over ted grass as this will just add to physical losses.”

Achieving a fast and effective fermentation will be crucial and can be more of a challenge with drier grass which can be harder to consolidate. Mr Eastlake advises rolling the clamp extensively and covering with a true oxygen barrier such as Silostop and plastic sheet before weighting the clamp down carefully.

“Your objective must be that as much of the energy and dry matter within the grass silage you put into the clamp is available to feed, which means producing a well fermented and aerobically stable clamp. Aerobic losses in silage can be as high as 15% of dry matter due to heat and spoilage.

“To help ensure the maximum amount of dry matter and energy is available to feed, you should invest in a crop and condition specific silage inoculant such as Magniva containing a blend of homofermentative and heterofermentative bacteria, where the combination of bacteria can be tailored to suit the initial fermentation and stability challenges of different dry matter silages.

“This will first ensure an effective initial fermentation and secondly will compliment your clamp sealing and ensure a stable feed when the clamp is opened.”

For more information on:

The Magniva range of silage inoculants click here

Silostop oxygen barrier products click here