It will not be long before we hear the familiar sound of the forage harvesters in the fields gathering in the grass to ensile for this year’s winter feed. Love it or hate it, it’s a major part of the farming year and the basal feed for many farmers, but do we give it enough attention to get the most out of this valuable product?
Concentrating on when you harvest and how you store and manage the storage greatly impacts the quality. Also by identifying what class of stock you are feeding the forage to (eg. milking cows, finishing cattle, suckler cows etc), taking into account their dietary requirements, and tailoring the forage for the specific class of stock, will mean less cost by reducing the supplementary feeds required.
An example of this can be seen in the table below (the prices referenced are for demonstrative purposes only whereby individual costs may vary).
Looking at a proposed finishing diet for continental cattle, using a 34% protein blend (£360/t), a 13MJ/kg ME energy blend (£250/t), and forage (£35/t) then looking at three different forage results. The below is balanced for 12.5kg dry matter intake, 14% Crude Protein and 12.2MJ/kg DM.
The cost difference between Finisher 2 and Finisher 3 is 77p. Multiply this over 100 days to finish makes £77 per head difference. If you have one hundred finishing cattle on the mix, this is a staggering £7,700 margin. There are other factors to consider (minerals, fibre etc), but the principle is still the same.
It may be so that once the silage is in the clamp, or in the bale, it cannot be changed. Additionally, one major factor that cannot be controlled is the weather. But, with a bit of forward-thinking we can improve its quality for future silage seasons. Look at grass quality – are you growing the best grass for your area and stock? Are you harvesting at the optimum time to obtain the quality required in the forage?
For example, the quality of some of the above silages may be too good for suckler dry cows or you may be chasing high proteins to reduce the cost further. Look at the grass mix and the timescale the grass ley is given. Some may be only three-year leys and need to be changed. Some may be five-year leys – after which time the quality of the grass ensiled and grazed may be affected.