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SAC Stress Importance of Knowing the True Value of Fodder
2:30pm Wednesday 25th July 2012 in Livestock
While farmers and crofters in the north and west are still adjusting to unprecedented drought conditions, in much of Scotland this year livestock farmers have battled with torrential rain, heavy showers, soft ground and sodden grazing. For them cutting silage has been a catch as catch can nightmare. It has led to SAC Consultants and Specialists receiving many enquiries from farmers and smallholders desperate to know what can be done to help reduce the impact of poor fodder on their livestock ’s performance and their business.
They are finding the cold wet weather has slowed grass growth and lowered yields, while sodden fields have been poached, which reduces the effective future performance of grass and offers sites for weeds to grow. The problems also affect any grass conserved for winter feed, especially as the weather has delayed first and second cuts.
Late cutting reduces energy and protein levels and is not helped by little or no sunshine. This reduces sugar levels in the grass when it is cut, which combined with low dry matters, causes poor fermentation in the pit or bale and reduces the feed value still further. In addition later cut silages have suffered from slower regrowth, impacting on the quantity of grazing available.
According to SAC Consultant Dr Basil Lowman this lack of aftermath grazing is a key concern: “Using data from our grass variety trial plots in Aberdeen we estimate that the 4 – 6 week delay in taking first cut silage this year has reduced total animal grass production in those fields by nearly 20%. Couple with the poor quality of the late cut silage the impact on the livestock business is severe.”
Given the problems, farmers have been driven to use the silage they have made almost immediately and have been seeking advice on whether they can.
“If silage is exposed to air before the fermentation process has finished, there will be insufficient acid produced to protect it against moulds, secondary fermentation etc” says Basil. “Feeding big bales even just 2 or 3 days after they have been wrapped, will not be a problem, provided the bale is consumed within 36 hours. However, if silage is made in a large pit or clamp, allowing air in before the grass is fully protected by the fermentation acids will result in ever increasing deterioration in feed quality.”
His advice for clamped silage is to try and delay opening until a month to six weeks after filling and sealing it. Even then it is important to ensure good management of the face, keeping it clean and compact and sheeting it down again, every time silage is removed.
With so many challenges to fodder quality and livestock performance SAC staff are also recommending that silage is analysed as soon as possible to determine its feed value and help farmers plan accordingly. This time the advice for both baled and pit silage is to wait a month before samples are taken. They argue feeding similar amounts of feed to weaned calves or finishing cattle this winter, without knowing the feed value of silage, could cost a business over £40 per head in lost performance at current prices. (This is based on comparing silages with a Metabolisable Energy (ME) value of 9.5 and 10.5 MJ/kg DM and a Crude Protein (CP) value of 100 and 120g/kg DM).
With cereals and protein concentrate prices rising SAC’s feed rationing service offers an independent viewpoint and allows farmers to consider the most suitable, least cost options. This can save hundreds if not thousands of pounds.