The driest July since 1935, with little rainfall since, has put pressure on grazing and forage stocks, with many farmers already feeding silage intended for winter and later silage crops being lighter than expected. Maize in many areas is also particularly badly affected.

As explained in this article drought-stressed maize, which is unlikely to cob or has a large amount of dead foliage, is best taken early. In spite of its low starch levels, it will benefit from higher digestibility and there will be less risk of aerobic spoilage than on a later-harvested crop.

Our case studies below all focus on winter rations and, central to all four, is the desire to cut cost and improve efficiency. This is being achieved in a variety of ways – either by reducing inputs, cutting out the middle-man by buying direct from another farmer, or making better silage and becoming more self-sufficient. All of the farmers have achieved this by ensuring they have selected the correct preservatives and following our best practice advice to retain the maximum amount of nutrients in their home-grown or locally purchased feeds.

Case studies:
Banishing feed lorries to drive down costs
How two farmers trade from combine to cow
Using beans for finishing cuts two-thirds from costs
Zero-tolerance of mouldy bales leads contractor to BaleSafe

This technical article by Dr George Fisher and Dr Dave Davies looks at how the whole production cycle is linked and how even the best farmers can make small efficiency savings. This can be achieved at different stages, from caring for the soil to ensuring a healthy and effective rumen.

We cannot magically undo the shortage of forage this year but, looking forward, if weather extremes are likely to become more common, as predicted, there are actions we can take. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your soil is in good condition to support the growing crop. We can’t change what we have in terms of soil type, but managing it in terms of organic matter inclusion, pH and aeration all play a part in making it more resilient to the effects of severe weather.
  • Optimise the feeding of the growing crop for maximum yields as cost-effectively as possible. Using Digest-It to improve your slurry and managing its application carefully will help you reduce your purchased fertiliser requirement. Our slurry-wise programme can support you with this.
  • Reduce dry matter losses in forages. The average DM loss in UK silage is 25% but we have customers using Safesil and our clamp management products, who, with excellent attention to detail, are limiting DM losses to as little as 10%. Not only is that significantly more feed in the trough, but, as the most digestible nutrients are lost first, it’s higher quality too

It’s never too early to start planning for next year and we would be happy to discuss any ways in which we could help you become more resilient in the future. If you are thinking of trying to source crops such as beans, or cereals or maize for crimping, then popping an advert on our ‘Home-Grown Feeds Seek and Sell’ platform will give arable farmers considering alternative crops reassurance that there will be demand for them.

Norfolk Farmer Ash Sewell (Mills on Wheels) feeding haylage to his suckler herd in early August.
Graham Mellor, West Hale Farm near Doncaster, finishing Texel x Beltex lambs on hay and a home-produced blend of Propcorn NC-treated barley, oats and beans (processed through his Murska 350) with molasses. The lambs are normally finished on stubble turnips, but the drought meant it was not worth sowing them this year.

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