With the cost of feed and other farm inputs rising, taking a whole farm approach when planning for your livestock diets for the coming year will reduce exposure to price volatility and protect your business for the future.

The main areas of loss that can quite easily be rectified are dry matter and energy losses in home-produced feeds and losses due to ineffective use of purchased inputs.

As well as the obvious financial benefits of reducing these losses, producing a larger percentage of your milk or meat in a sustainable way and reducing your carbon footprint is likely to form a critical part of future government support.

You can read how David Walker’s farm business has benefited by working with us to improve the quality of his wholecrop and grass silage, and how he is now obtaining over 40% of his milk from forage, with good milk solids.

Cutting grass at the right stage and focusing on quality has, as explained in the last issue, been shown to reduce methane emissions by 0.5 litres for every percentage point of D value. Further to this, recent NIAB research shows that 1% higher D value equates to 0.26 litres of milk, 40g of beef or 20g of lamb liveweight gain per day.

In the UK overall ensiled feed DM losses can average 25% (Wilkinson and Davies 2013). Reducing losses in silages down to high single figures is achievable by paying close attention to the ‘3 P’s’ – Preserve, Pack and Protect.

Choosing Safesil as your silage preservative has been shown repeatedly, in independent trials, to reduce DM loss during the fermentation phase to low single figures. It does this by eliminating the undesirable bacteria on the ensiled crop to produce a clean, efficient, lactic fermentation. Further losses in dry matter and quality will also be minimised during the feedout phase because Safesil kills the yeasts and moulds which cause heating and deterioration when air is present. Conversely, using a hetero-fermenting inoculant, which many other companies promote, whilst improving stability and losses at feedout, may increase total losses by producing CO2 and water as by-products of acetic acid production.

Packing of the clamp using a SilaPactor will also reduce losses. The correlation between silage density and DM loss has been well documented and use of a SilaPactor has been shown to increase compaction density by up to 40%.

Finally, protection with O2 Barrier 2in1 top sheets, combined with top quality side sheets, all held in place with either SilageSafe or ClampNet and gravel bags, all play a part in producing a consistent clamp of stable silage, with the minimum of losses. After all, it costs no more to produce a tonne of quality silage than a tonne of poorly fermented and/or aerobically unstable, and therefore less productive, silage.

A sustainable approach to home-grown feed production could lead to less dependency on costly inputs and fewer lorries
A sustainable approach to home-grown feed production could lead to less dependency on costly inputs and fewer lorries

One of the big costs in livestock diets is protein. In recent years there has been a trend towards using urea to supplement this, predominantly as a treatment for cereals or wholecrop, but also in higher dry matter forages. We have always known that this approach is not cost effective as the non-protein nitrogen added by the urea is of poor nutritional quality. In the clamp the urea is converted to ammonia much of which is lost to the atmosphere.

This has been quantified in two independent trials conducted by Dr Dave Davies and Dr Horst Auerbach, who collaborated to produce an article explaining their results which was recently published in the Farmers Weekly. The article concludes that up to 73% of the added nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere. It is also difficult to manage ammonia in the diet, especially alongside forages which are also high in rapidly rumen-degradable protein, as without adequate sugar in the rumen it has the potential to lead to ammonia toxicity which can impact on fertility and liver function. This ‘lost’ nitrogen is likely to come under close scrutiny and affect further agri-environmental policy.

Growing legumes as a more environmentally beneficial and rumen-friendly source of protein  is increasing in popularity with some farmers. Peas and beans are relatively simple to grow and quite versatile in that they can either be combined and treated with Propcorn NC, ensiled with a moist feed (such as brewers grains), or wholecropped depending on your feeding system and availability of harvesting equipment.

These options have been explained in a previous issue of KnowHow.

Recent research by the Processors and Growers Research Organisation has found that it may be beneficial bi-cropping peas and beans or a legume with a cereal.  As the use of nitrogen fertiliser is also likely to come under close scrutiny in the future, the nitrogen-fixing properties of beans and the soil structure improvements they provide should also be taken into account.

Lupins may also be an option in some parts of the country as they are higher in DUP (or bypass) protein and have the potential to reduce soya requirements in some diets. They are, however, more difficult to grow successfully so specialist agronomic advice should be sought.

For cereals, by far the best and most cost-efficient method of preservation is by crimping because it conserves cereals at peak nutritional value and digestibility. Harvested at between 35% and 40% moisture, crimped and treated with the proven preservative CrimpSafe 300, and then ensiled, crimped grain can reduce bought-in concentrate requirements significantly.

Fully traceable and with a lower carbon footprint relative to many bought-in feeds, crimped grain is a cost-effective and rumen-friendly way of boosting energy levels in ruminant rations.

The case studies relating to Gordon Smith and Martyn Jones highlight the benefits of this process. Whilst not adding additional protein, crimping harvests the cereal at a time when the natural protein levels are higher and more available.

It also brings increases in DM yields and more, and better quality, straw. This can be baled as dry straw or, once the moisture content of the straw is below 25%, baled and treated with BaleSafe to produce a high-quality, low-dust feed straw.

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