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Act Early on Winter Feeding

As Christmas approaches it is important to keep focused on herd nutrition and ensure feed deliveries are booked for the festive season to avoid any shortfalls.  Winter diets are being fed however it can still take some cows time to adapt to so it is important to pay close attention to their performance as this should give a good indication if ration changes are required.

The NWF laboratory analyses over 8500 forage samples each year providing instant results to support ration planning.  Results indicate that silages this season are looking good; for 1st cut grass silages in central England average dry matter is 32.4%, ME of 10.8 MJ/kg DM and crude protein of 14.6%, which should deliver good intake and milk yield potential. Averages can be misleading and whilst energy is 10.8 ME, the maximum analysed is 12.1 ME which initially sounds good, however, very digestible silage can be difficult to feed and often runs through the cow quickly, requiring structural fibre to offer a ‘matt’ on the top of the rumen.

Similarly, an average dry matter of 32.4% still contains a minimum dry matter of 14%, where again a wetter grass silage can offer significant rumen health issues and impact feed efficiency. To maximise winter performance key limiting factors need to be identified and a strategy employed to either fix or mitigate their effects.

As an example for silages that are generally dryer this season, the question arises on whether you should add water?  A dry matter above 55% will reduce intakes and performance, therefore, any silages higher than 47% DM would benefit from the addition of water at a rate of 3 litres/head/day to the TMR to support bringing the dry matter back down below 55% which in turn will help increase performance.

Forage stocks are another common issue this winter and with silages being more digestible than a typical season, this will only increase their intake and therefore reduce how long they will last. Straw is the ‘go to’ forage to space out silages. This will help rumen health, however, keep an eye on butterfat increases, the straw will reduce energy density so milk proteins may reduce and that could impact on bulling activity. Adding 3kg/head/day of straw will require over 200g/head/day of rumen-protected fat such as Evolution to lift energy levels back up to where they would have been. If milk proteins are required then choose cereals such as wheat, barley or maize to re-gain energy, the starch in these feeds will produce a propionate response in the rumen, having a significant impact on milk proteins.

To get the best out of winter diets ensure herd performance is monitored and compared against targets set.  Think ahead and predict any responses to changes made to ensure they deliver the desired result.  NWF nutritionists provide expert advice and solutions supported with extensive technical services to help livestock perform to their potential.

Call NWF Agriculture on 0800 756 2787 or visit for further information and advice on winter feeding.


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