19 January 2001

Cost-effective and improves health

WHOLE-CROP forages are proving to be cost effective when compared with traditional grass silage grown at Whattall Farm, as well as improving cow health and rumen efficiency.

When comparing costs, wheat alkalage is £35/t dry matter cheaper than preserved grass, says Andrew Shakeshaft. Last year, although harvesting costs were £16/ha (£40/acre) for both crops, wheat produced a more consistent yield than grass, at 11.9t DM/ha (4.8t DM/acre) compared with one cut of silage at 5.6t DM/ha (2.3t DM/acre).

Savings in fertiliser use also contribute to the low cost of wheat alkalage, he adds. Depending on soil type, fertiliser use for wheat alkalage costs £9/ha (£22/acre) and £16/ha (£40/acre) for grass silage.

Margin over all purchased feed, forage and rent at Whattall Farm is 10.9p/litre, says Mr Shakeshaft and using urea-based pellets – Dugdales Home n Dry – to preserve the grain contributes to this figure.

"The additive provides a cost-effective way of adding protein to the ration, increasing crude protein levels from 10% to 17.5% in the wheat crop."

Mr Shakeshaft believes the whole-crop ration also has health benefits which cut vet and med costs. "We have found an improvement in cow health, especially reduced foot problems such as sole ulcers, slurry heel and laministis, which are associated with highly acidic feed." Alkaline conserved whole-crops, which are pH8.5 compared with pH4 for fermented silages, also allow the rumen to work more efficiently, he adds. &#42

Whole-crop inclusion in

current rations (%DM)

Wheat Beans and alkalage peas

Calves to

10 months 60 20

Bulling heifers 18-24 months 65 15

Milkers 28 24

Crop production costs (including rent but not arable aid)

Cost/t fresh weight Cost/t DM CP% as fed

Wheat alkalage £48.00 £63.50 16

Barley alkalage £39.50 £52.60 16

Preserved bean forage £62.50 £104.00 14

Preserved grass £21.70 £98.60 14

Maize silage £13.00 £47.25 8