Silage 2020 – farmers gearing up for the season ahead

According to United Feeds’ nutritionist Jenny Hamilton, the start of the 2020 silage season is less than a fortnight away for some. Farmers in the east tend to get started that little bit earlier than their colleagues in other parts of Northern Ireland. However, in some parts of the west, it’s noticeable that grass swards are starting to bulk up well. In fact, in different parts of the province some operating multi-cut regimes have already made a start.

Jenny Hamilton, Ruminant Nutritionist

Grass silage remains the main forage source on the majority of our livestock farms for at least six months of the year. So getting the quality right is crucially important. Farmers have no control over the base price they get for their milk or beef. Nor can they change international commodity markets. However, they have a huge influence on the quality of forages they produce. 

When samples are taken for testing we often look back in hindsight, but as the saying goes, “foresight is better” so having a silage making regime in mind for 2020 that focuses on the best quality forage for the different types of stock on the farm will pay dividends over the winter.

The United Feeds’ nutritionist went on to point out that feeding a quality silage, as opposed to a poorer quality one, can deliver up to a £1 per cow per day of increased margin on dairy farms depending on concentrate prices. On a farm with 100 cows this adds up to £100 per day; £3,000 per month or a total of £18,000 over a 6-month feeding season.

Jenny’s assertions are based on diet analysis carried out by the nutritionist over recent days. She points out that cows fed good quality silage (11.8 MJ/kgDM, typical D-Value 72) can produce up to 11.8L of milk per day from forage, assuming a 12kg dry matter intake (DMI).

When cows are fed medium quality silage (ME = 10.5 MJ/kgDM, D-Value 66) or poor quality silage ME = 10.0 MJ/kgDM, D-Value 62) the equivalent daily milk from forage figures are: 5.8L and 3.8L, assuming a typical DMI of 10.5kg and 10kg respectively.

Or put another way, for a herd averaging 30 litres of milk, cows offered 10.5 ME or 10 ME silage would need to receive an additional 3kg and 4kg of concentrates per day respectively in order to achieve the same level of milk output as that attained by cows fed 11.8 ME silage.

Dry matter intakes are a key driver of cow performance. Research and farm trials have confirmed that as ME and D-Values fall, forage intakes will reduce correspondingly. Irrespective of the ways by which dairy performance is analysed, the benefits accrued from making good silage stand out. Using the example just outlined, cows averaging 30L daily fed 11.8 ME silage had a concentrate feeding rate of 0.3kg/L, compared with 0.4kg on 10.5 ME silage and 0.43kg on 10 ME silage. These different feeding rates have obvious consequences for margin over concentrate figures.

Jenny concluded:

With a difference in silage quality potentially amounting to an £18,000 saving over 6 months for a 100 cow herd – forage quality and DMIs are obviously even more critical to the bottom line of those herds housed the year round.

During the winter of 2019 the team at United Feeds worked with a wide range of silage qualities from those with an ME of less than 9 to those with an ME greater than 12.

I’m aware we’re at the mercy of weather but depending on growths rates, which could be north of 80kg DM/ha/day come mid-May, the D-Value of silage can drop by up to three units per week. So a fortnight’s delay in grass cutting could result in the production of an 11ME silage, as opposed to a 12ME silage.

So the take home message is a very clear one: off the back of an uncertain summer, efficient milk/beef production will continue to be the focus next winter and producing good quality silage will make all the difference when it comes to feeding stock efficiently.

If you would like to discuss anything further please contact your local United Feeds adviser.

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