26 March 1999

Top after grazed

grass

Making the most of whole-crop cereals with advances in

harvesting equipment, new feeding trials and an Irish

experience with whole-crop were topics at the recent MGA

Whole-crop Conference, Stafford. Simon Wragg reports

NEXT to high-quality grazed grass, whole-crop cereals are the most suitable feed for dairy cows. They have the right balance of energy and protein to help maximise the difference between feed cost and milk price.

Thats according to Lancs-based farmer-contractor Peter King who says some of his clients using whole-crop are achieving a margin of 14p/litre even at todays milk price. "Growing cereals is not a natural thing to do in our part of the country, but whole-crop cereals are the next best thing to grazed grass for cows," he said.

While grazed grass can provide sufficient energy and protein to produce up to 18-22 litres milk a day, when it is ensiled fermentation lowers its feed value and milk production will suffer. Therefore, the aim with whole-crop is to produce a 12 MJ/kg DM feed with as little fermentation as possible to preserve the crop. The total cost of this feed should not exceed 6p a litre, he added.

A number of whole-crops have been tried as well as complementary feeds such as bi-crops. This includes growing barley and kale bi-crops in sprayer-width strips to ease management. These are harvested across the field to help mix forages, he explained. Barley – with its high energy value – helps conserve the sugars in kale. A typical ration including this mix would be 35% alkaline treated whole-crop, 12% bi-crop and 53% grass silage, depending on its quality, said Mr King.

Typically, high yielders could eat 15kg DM of this mix with a total feed cost of 67p. Accounting for maintenance and 18 litres of milk, resulting feed costs are 1.5p/litre. Buying in wheat to match forage energy and protein would cost £1.40 for the same production, costing 4p a litre.

Whole-crop is flexible and should be harvested to balance the variable quality of first and second cut grass silage, suggested Mr King. For example, where low protein silage is made, consider raising cutting height of whole-crop to produce an energy dense feed.

Cutting date will also affect whole-crop quality, he warned. A younger crop may yield 17t/ha (7t/acre) at £25/t compared with a higher dry matter crop yielding 10t/ha (4t/acre) at £45/t. "But feed cost is only part of the story. Higher dry matter crops will lift intakes and reduce the need for bought-in concentrate," he said.

A number of different bi-crops could also be used in rations alongside whole-crop cereals. "We can grow peas and beans together. This is after derogation from MAFF to grow mixed pulses on IACS land and still receive area payments."

These bi-crops can also be ensiled together to reduce risk of effluent losses, and cut the need for expensive mixer wagons on some units, added Mr King.

Box please: Whole-crops

&#8226 Equivalent to the best grazing.

&#8226 14p/litre margin after feed

&#8226 Bi-cropping also beneficial

WHOLE-CROPS

&#8226 Equivalent to the best grazing.

&#8226 14p/litre margin after feed.

&#8226 Bi-cropping also beneficial.