Sheep eating winter silage in the snow©FLPA/Rex Shutterstock

Livestock farmers across Scotland should get their silage tested now to help them plan their feeding strategies ahead of a potentially difficult winter.

The short, wet growing season across much of the country means that many farmers could be left with rations which are much lower in protein than usual.

See also: Low protein silage sparks starving livestock warning

And with feedstocks already tight for some producers following the long previous winter, being able to make informed decisions about ration planning now could help reduce stress and costs in the coming months, Scottish organic certification body Sopa has said.

The agency’s warning came after it discovered that only about 50% of farmers on the Highlands and Islands had tested their silage this year, and those that had were concerned about its quality.

During a winter feed workshop in Orkney last month, farmers on the island said feed value of their silage was a bigger problem than the amount of feed they had available to them.

Sample silage analysis on the island had discovered that typical crude protein per kg of DM was 8% this year, down from an average of 11-13%.

“This is a concern for organic and non-organic producers alike in Orkney, and its a picture that could be replicated across Scotland where growing conditions have been tough,” said Sopa membership support officer Joanna Sinclair.

“Testing your silage now will give you a better picture of the quality of feed on your farm, which can vary year-on-year, and knowing what you have will help guide your winter feed planning to avoid nutrition and welfare issues.

“If your protein is low, then you need to look at a compound or straight that balances it out. That can bring other issues for farmers in Scotland, particularly in places like Orkney where farms are particularly remote.”

Ms Sinclair said that the high costs of haulage were a concern for organic and non-organic producers, while organic farmers also had to contend with the higher costs of organic feed.

“A tonne of organic soya is about £800, which is considerably more than non-organic soya,” she said. “When you add on the costs of transporting it, it is a considerable cost to a farmer.

“This is where knowing what you have and being organised can help. For example, farmers could look at collaborative purchasing: it might not save money on the commodity price, but it could save them hundreds of pounds in terms of haulage.”

“Also think about ways you can co-operate with other farmers. If you have spare silage, is there a farmer somewhere else who could benefit from that, and how do you let them know about it?

“In Orkney we were looking at setting up a small email group so we can continue the dialogue, and that’s something farmers can do anywhere.

“Getting these measures in place now can really help if things do get tough over the next few months.”