Focus On Forage Quality

Time to reflect? 

As Christmas is fast approaching its time to reflect on the past year and start to make plans for the coming one.  For some this growing season has been kind, but still present certain challenges.

When pondering it may well be worth considering the following:

Few farmers would consider giving their cows the same feed ration that they were giving them in the 1980s. Yet many are still buying the same fertiliser grades.

When we consider this it is worth looking at the even more fundamental question:

“Why do we apply fertiliser to our crops?”

There are probably 3 main reasons. Firstly, to improve soil conditions for the intended crops, then to supplement the natural nutrient supply, and finally to replace those nutrients lost by production.

What we need to remember is that plants need more than 16 different nutrients to thrive, all of which are required in different quantities. Three of the big ones we get for free – Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. The rest we have to find from muck, slurry and fertiliser and if we are fortunate soil reserves. So whilst using an NPK can do part of the job, to maximise our grassland or crop production, we need to look more widely to ensure that we have a balanced supply of all of the nutrients which plants need.

Focus On Forage Quality.

Forage is still the cheapest form of feed, and grass forages the cheapest of all. With the reality of more volatile markets effecting both outputs and inputs (feed and fertiliser) prices, it is important that we remember this as this is the area where we can have the biggest impact on reducing our exposure on the farm.

Now is the ideal time asses your fertiliser policy and think about your plan for next year. The silage you are feeding now is the result of your hard work from this growing year and its nutritional value will impact on your feed cost and performance for the whole winter.

When we think about the results of using fertiliser we usually first think of increasing yield, How many tonnes? Was it more or less than last year? Am I getting my money’s worth? But at times like these, the quality is just as important. Let us consider the quality benefits which may result from complete nutrition.

D value or digestibility is a figure on our forage analysis that we all take for granted, we know that the higher it is the better it is, but our eye always is drawn to the ME figure. The Irony is that ME is derived from the D value and it is this that has a direct effect on the energy values of the forage.

Many of us have actually seen this in practice this year, having introduced a multi-cut system, good weather early on meant that many cut a week earlier than usual and we have seen on the whole an increase in D values to match this. There is one important thing to note here, however, this figure is the potential D value if time and limiting factors are removed. So we sometimes need to give it a helping hand to realise the true value of this figure.