a tele handler with a rake on a silage clamp© Tim Scrivener

Dairy farmers could keep cow diets more consistent by feeding multiple forages at one time, according to a leading US dairy scientist.

Speaking at UK Dairy Day, Prof Jud Heinrichs of Penn State University said clamp sizes in the UK were too big and farmers would be better reducing them to enable them to feed different silage cuts at the same time.

Currently, many farms feed first cut, followed by second and respective cuts. But forage quality variability can result in changes in rumen environment, causing cows to go off their feed and production levels to drop.

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“Farms have gone to too bigger clamps because all they’re thinking about is let’s get this cow fed fast,” explained Prof Heinrichs.

Consistency benefit

While he admitted larger clamps were easier to manage and required less concrete and capital outlay, he said having more clamps that were smaller in size would allow farmers to combine cuts to provide better feed consistency.

Mixing at least two cuts in one ration would allow silages to be fed over a much longer period because it would not be used up as fast, he explained.

He added: “It means you are feeding each one of them [cuts] for twice as long. On a day-to-day basis any minor change in that silage is going to have much less effect, because it is only making up half of the forage dry matter.”

Ideally, Prof Heinrichs said, clamps should be “half” or a lot smaller than current sizes.

“The downside for farmers is that I’m adding more concrete, which is expensive.”

Prof Heinrichs said a growing number of farmers in the US were combining first or second and third cuts with maize and were seeing big benefits.