Forages this winter presented a particular challenge on farm when it came to rationing. There were many instances of variability in animal response to diet ‘tweaking’, which were put down to abnormal silage profiles. Generally, first cuts were earlier and last year and did feed quite well but in many cases, there wasn’t a lot of it, but as the table below illustrates on average they weren’t significantly improved on previous years.
A few people who took advantage of the early cuts were able to get an extra cut into the system, so what are the benefits this extra cost of harvesting?
Value of Forage
A lot of information you read talks about increased milk and the value of this milk as a justification for improving forage quality or doing an extra cut. This is fine in theory but ends up giving you massive figures which are frankly unbelievable. An alternative way is looking at what the cost of buying the extra protein and energy would cost. If you had to purchase the Energy and Protein that forages supply from an alternative source (Wheat @ £145 and Soya £360) then this would be worth a huge sum of money.
The table below shows average grass silage has a value of £164/tonne of dry matter. Which at a yield of 4 tonnes DM/acre (3 cuts) is worth £656/acre.
Similarly, the value of Grazing with a value of £240/tonne of DM and yield of 4 t/DM/acre is worth £960/acre.
Value of improvement
The important thing to bear in mind here is the values of the output across the year. Someone may have a good first cut but poor second or third cuts or a variation on this. Establishing the average performance for the year is key to improvement! So if we can lift from poor to average or average to good has the effect of putting £15/t on the bottom line, or for a cow eating 12kg of forage dm/day then 18p/cow/day or £32/cow across a 180-day winter.
The interesting thing here is the differences in values. Improving forage will have a substantial cash value. In the table above the difference between medium and good silage is £15/t of DM. Which at 4t/DM yield is almost £60 an acre.
Consequently, the value between medium and poor is £14/tonne DM, a difference of £56/acre.
If we can also improve forage yield at the same time then this has a compounding effect. There a 2 key areas here which fundamentally can be treated as having the same effect:
Utilising more of what you are already growing (especially at grazing)
The financial value of improving these are also substantial.
Every extra 100kg DM of medium silage per acre across the year (2.5% increase on 4t/DM) is worth £16 an acre.
Every extra 100kg DM of Grazed grass per acre across the year (2.5% increase on 4t/DM) is worth a minimum of £19 an acre. This one is particularly important when we are thinking about utilisation as it is not all about growing more it’s about getting them to eat what is there.
The goal here is removing limiting factors. This list is potentially very long so identifying and putting in place a plan that covers short, medium and long-term changes will help identify, prioritise, reduce costs and also manage expectations. An example could be:
Short Term (this year): Soil Tests, Sward Assessment and Reseed plan, Fertiliser Plan and change fertiliser inputs, FYM/slurry plan, number and type of cuts.
Medium Term (Next 3 years): All fields soil tested, Limed the farm, Improved Grazing infrastructure
Long Term (Next 5 Years): Reseeded Farm
A large proportion of the value of the above is coming from your expertise on farm, which is the single most important factor in the whole farm approach.
On this basis, it is worth sitting down and considering a different approach, but unless you plan to make it happen it won’t.