7 July 1995

Silage alternatives prove cheaper and simpler for sucklers

Next week the British Grassland Society takes its delegates All around the Wrekin in Shropshire. Jessica Buss previews two of the 10 farms to be visited

GRASS silage is too expensive to feed to suckler cows, reckons Shropshire producer John Evans. He claims cheaper alternatives can be found.

Mr Evans, of Walcot Farm, Lydbury North, farms 100ha (250 acres) of permanent pasture and 200ha (500 acres) of arable land, cropped with potatoes, cereals and forage maize. His 300 Aberdeen Angus x Friesian autumn- and spring-calving cows graze from April to December but he makes no grass silage. Feeding arable products is simpler and cheaper, he says. The policy enables him to maximise the number of calves reared on his grass acreage.

Low input grassland management is practised, with 125kg/ha of nitrogen (100 units/acre) and 50kg/ha (40 units/acre) of phosphate and potash applied a year.

In winter 1400 sheep graze the pastures. Over the same period dry cows are offered ad lib ammonia-treated straw, untreated straw and 300g a head a day of 43% protein concentrate with high selenium and copper minerals.

Cows with calves at foot are fed to produce 4.5 litres of milk a day with ad lib ammonia-treated straw, maize silage and 43% protein concentrate – depending on the quality and quantity of maize fed, and minerals. "Ammonia straw is a good balancer with maize silage for cows with calves," says Mr Evans. Straw is treated in a wrapped stack of 150t of big bales. Treatment, with aqueous ammonia, is carried out by contractor at a cost of £15-£20/t. "One advantage of feeding straw is that you can buy in more easily to keep the diet consistent," he says.

He uses Belgian Blue sires over the herd. Though calves are small at birth unlike those from other Continental sires, they develop well outside the cow.

Calves are weaned at seven months and must be housed, as the bulls are kept entire. They are offered an ad lib diet of crimped grain with protein concentrate added, to provide 16% crude protein mix, plus maize silage. The crimped grain is made of barley cut at 35% dry matter.

Stores at 450kg lw, 10-12 months, are sold to private buyers and never go to market, thus saving on transport costs and reducing stress on the animals, he claims.

John Evans and his son Robert (left) feed ammonia-treated straw rather than grass silage to their suckler cows because it is cheaper.