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Jun 05, 2020

Make quality silage to save on feed costs

Jun 05, 2020

Article as seen in British Dairying – May 2020

With the expectation of challenging milk prices and higher feed costs, a focus on forage quality in the next few months can significantly reduce the impact on margins whilst not compromising cow nutrition.

Roy Eastlake National Technical Manger, Lallemand Animal Nutrition observes:  “Most commentators agree there is little doubt dairy margins are going to be tight this winter, Milk prices are likely to remain under pressure until other sectors of the economy, particularly food service and hospitality, recover.”

“At the same time, feed prices are likely to be higher due to a combination of exchange rate impacts, logistics, a reduction in the processes that produce co-products and a potentially reduced domestic cereal harvest.”

He says one of the key indicators of dairy margins is the milk price: feed price ratio.  It allows relative costs to be compared and is expressed as the kilos of concentrate which can be purchased by a litre of milk.

“For most of the last 20 years the ratio has been around 1.25:1, meaning a litre of milk would pay for 1.25kg of concentrates.  The ratio peaked short-term at closer to 1.4:1.  This means that the economics of feeding concentrates were strong and in part explains the growth in herd sizes and yields per dairy cow.

“This winter, this situation is likely to change with a ratio probably closer to 1:1, meaning the economics of marginal litres in particular will be questioned.”

With reduced milk prices, the way to lessen the impact of a milk price:

Feed price squeeze is to work to reduce feed rate.  Mr Eastlake comments that many farmers have already cut back on concentrates, particularly in later lactation cows, and not seen as much of a fall in milk as they expected.  He suggests that this demonstrates two things; firstly that marginal litres are not produced efficiently, and second that cows compensate for a reduction in concentrates by eating more forage.

“This is exactly what we saw in 1984 when quotas were introduced and feed rates were slashed.  The yield decline predicted in response to reduced concentrates was less than expected and there is a clear message for this winter.  It was not unusual for farmers to reduce feed rates by 10% and to only see a 5% yield reduction.

“If you can make more silage, and ensure it is better quality you will be able to reduce concentrate feed rates and feed bills.  In addition, the diet will be better for the rumen and potentially result in better milk quality. And there are still real opportunities to improve forage quality this season if farmers plan now, focussing on maximising quality and reducing dry matter and energy losses.”

With first cut already completed in many parts of the country, Mr Eastlake says the starting point is the plan for second and subsequent cuts, and in particular working out your target cutting date.  With a target date set, calculate how much fertiliser to apply.

“You must take second cut 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.  If you have already applied fertiliser on aftermaths, calculate how soon you can possibly cut. Then use pre-cut testing to make sure the crop is in optimum condition to cut.  Nitrates should be 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 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 you put into the clamp is available to feed, which means producing a well fermented and aerobically stable clamp.  Aerobic losses can be as high as 15% of dry matter due to heat and spoilage. To help ensure the maximum amount of forage and energy is available to feed, you should invest in Magniva crop and condition specific inoculant containing a blend of homofermentative and heterofermentative bacteria.  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.”

Mr Eastlake explains that the combination of bacteria can be tailored to suit the initial fermentation and stability challenges of different dry matter silages.  He says Magniva Platinum Grass Wet is formulated for grass silage typically up to 30%DM while for drier crops Magniva Platinum Grass Dry will deliver exceptionally stable feed.

The payback from making sufficient forage to allow a reduction in purchased feeds could be considerable.  He suggests that by cutting grass at the optimum time and then focussing on reducing losses, it should be possible to reduce dry matter losses by 13% and increase average ME content by 0.5MJ/kgDM.

“Each tonne of dry matter fed at 0.5MJ more energy supplies an extra 500MJ to the cows’” he says.  This is the same energy as 42kg of concentrate, meaning the extra 0.5MJ can save £10.50 of concentrates per tonne of dry matter assuming a feed price of £250/t.

“Every additional tonne of dry matter with an energy content of 11.3MJ which is fed rather than wasted, will supply an additional 11,300MJ.  This is equivalent to a concentrate saving of £235/tonne of silage dry matter.

“A typical farm will probably make around 900 tonnes of silage freshweight from second and later cuts.  If wastage is reduced by 13% and ME content increased by 0.5MJ, the potential reduction in feed costs could be as much as £11,000.  This makes the investment in silage quality well worth targeting, especially as few if any extra costs are incurred when making a high quality stable silage compared to a lower quality, less stable one.”

For more information on the Magniva range of silage inoculants click here