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Considerations for feeding on low forage quantities

Whilst much of the country will have been thrilled with the hot summer of 2018 we have left behind, it continues to have negative consequences for farmers across the country.

The UK temperature and rainfall comparing 2017 and 2018 showed that a cold spring hit early growth rates and the hot summer dried out pastures. Coupled with reduced rainfall through June, July, August and September this has had an effect on grass/silage growth.

A recent article* published by AHDB online suggests an average of 13% reduction in forage stocks across the country with Scotland and the Midlands being the worst hit. Over a 6-month feeding period for 100 cows, this equates to nearly 31 tonnes of dry matter, or another way to look at it is nearly 64,000 litres of milk worth of energy, either way, the way you look at it, many farms will have a deficit which needs to be filled and options reviewed.

Straw is often the ‘go to’ forage to space out silages. Whilst it will be effective at ‘filling’ cows up, it will reduce energy density so milk proteins may suffer 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 Fat 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.

Buying in wholecrop to extend grass silage may be an option, remember for every 1kg dry matter of grass silage swapped for 1kg dry matter of wholecrop, you will require an extra 0.2kg of rapeseed meal or 0.15kg of soya to re-gain the protein. Keep in mind the limiting factors of each forage – for example, Lucerne can have healthy protein levels but may require an energy lift to replace grass silage. For every 1kg of dry matter silage replaced with hay, you will require 75g/h/d of protected fat or 0.2kg of wheat, however, the same exercise using Lucerne will yield a protein saving of approx. 0.2kg rape.

For most farms the only option will be increasing rates of purchased feeds, whether that be compound feeds, dry and/or moist blends or straights. Whilst this, of course, will incur cost, the return can yield a profit should the responses be achieved. The yield deficit of 64,000 litres/100 cows previously mentioned could cost £17,280 (based on 27ppl milk price). That energy deficit can be fulfilled with approximately 29 tonnes of molassed sugar beet at a cost of between £6,200 and £7,800 depending on load sizes.

Of course, predictions are one thing, actual results are what count and cows must produce to deliver a return. With good advice, good products and regular monitoring, the forage shortage need not be as detrimental as
first thought.

Call NWF Agriculture on 0800 756 2787 or email for further information, prices and advice.


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