Forage | Season of Quantity but not Quality

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Our team recently held a technical meeting with Adam Clay from Trouw.
One of our key focus points was forage this winter.
Thoughts from that meeting as follows, many thanks to Adam.

A statement ‘it’s been a season for quantity, not quality’ would adequately sum up this year’s grass silage averages, and with maize crops looking like another bumper yield, there will be no shortage of forage this winter.
However generally speaking high bulk means low quality.
The mild winter and wet spring led to high covers, high yields but lower quality, and the inconsistent weather during first cut resulted in a very wide range of results. Figure 1 contains first and second cut averages for 2013 and 2014.
Looking at first cuts, key performance indicators such as dry matter and energy density have both seen considerable reductions this year. Based on 10kg DMI between the two forages, 2014 first cuts will require a further 4.9kg freshweight, and that will still leave a deficiency of 3MJ or 0.6 litres/h/d when compared to 2013 first cuts. Typical of higher covers, NDF has seen a 6.6% increase however, perhaps surprisingly, lignin is in fact lower than 2013 suggesting that the fibre level is of good quality and digestible. Many farmers will consider ME, CP and DM as being key parameters to determine a forage quality, however animals do not perform off ME alone, intake is key to achieving efficient production. The intake factor measured in 2014 first cuts is 12.9% lower than in 2013 (92.1 Vs 104), coupled with lower quality means that milk yield potential will be significantly reduced. This may encourage farmers to feed more concentrate, which of course should yield results, however this must be done with caution
. Reduced dry matters will create more difficulties in establishing a rumen mat to help stabilise rumen function, something that structural fibre is essential for, and a 15.2% increase in lactic acid will increase the risk of rumen acidosis, therefore concentrate application must be done with consideration for a rumen that is under increased pressure.
Whilst increased feeding rates can be beneficial to fill the energy gap left by this years silages, ensure a mixture of rapidly and slowly fermentable carbohydrates is used, such as maize or sugar beet.
Also consider using a good level of digestible fibre such as sugar beet and soya hulls to ensure rumen function is optimal.
Summary
– A poor first will put pressure on both yields and rumen health. Quality raw materials must be used to enable cows to achieve high energy intakes without excess rapidly fermentable carbohydrates, which will increase Acid load and risk rumen acidosis.
– A strong second cut will help rumen function and potentially intakes, however the energy gap will still exist, which must be made up with the use of concentrates with a mixture of rapidly fermentable and slowly fermentable carbohydrates.
– Don’t be fooled by a good ME, the range in qualities is as big as ever, and a good ME may still yield poor results due to poor intake characteristics and high Acid load.
– 2014 grass silage averages are worse than the 2012 season which saw record low yields. Prevent problems of poor rumen function before they occur by using structural fibre and rumen buffers/modifiers where needed.
So forage quality this year is variable, especially when looking at first cut. The consequences of this are yet to be fully seen but it poses the question why do we see so much variability?
Undoubtedly the weather pays an important part in this equation but with it potentially having such a profound effect on winter performance and cost of production, it is worth revisiting to try and reduce the risk of poor forage on farm.
CMC’s forage team was formed with exactly this in mind, to help our customers evaluate their current production regime and working with you to give options and advice to help reduce the risk of poor quality forage.
For an informal chat about what we have to offer than please give one of our forage specialists a call.
Cornwall Mike Allen: 07860 76440.
Devon: Mark Tucker: 07703 734530.
Somerset/Dorset Matt Rance: 07809 306571.