Producers urged to check quality of maize silage

Dairy producers are being urged to have maize silage analysed this winter because results show energy levels to be the poorest recorded this century.

The wet summer and low hours of sunshine at critical growth stages hit quality and further delayed harvest, affecting feed values significantly, says Rachel Fowers, ruminant specialist at Frank Wright Trouw Nutrition International.

“Of the 660 silage samples analysed so far, ME is about 0.5MJ down, while starch is 6% lower than last year, despite dry matter being reasonably close to the average,” she says. “In addition, the intake potential is lower than usual which, together with the energy levels, suggests maize inclusion may not give yields the usual lift.”

Mole Valley Feed Solutions’ Chris Bartram fears that if producers don’t correct potential shortfalls in nutrition, many will not realise their potential additional profit.

“If milk production falls one litre a cow a day below target between December and April, the potential loss in gross margin across a 100-cow herd will be about £3000,” he says. “And unless the total diet is balanced to take poor-quality maize silage into account, performance may fall well below expectation.”

Dr Bartram says many herds are already struggling to find the right nutritional balance, which is reflected in a declining milk volume. “It must be remembered the economics of the ‘extra litre’ are fantastic – a typical margin of 14p a litre on a typical milk price of 27p a litre.”

But Ms Fowers points out that although most maize silage is poor, some well-fermented crops have been made. “We have crops with an ME of more than 12 and, with nearly 40% starch, some farmers will still see a response from maize,” she says. “And if 5kg/DM is fed, the difference between the best and worst silages this year is more than two litres of milk.”

maize table

However, for those planning to add higher starch concentrates to the ration to boost performance, acidosis may be a real issue, warns Ms Fowers. “Rumen buffers may be needed this year and the inclusion of protected fats could also help increase total energy intakes.”

Dr Bartram recommends producers to compare the current diet against a nutritional checklist of requirements. “Key areas to focus on include metabolisable energy, metabolisable protein and fibre nutrition, as well as major minerals, trace elements and vitamins.”

Also seeing variation between samples are whole-crop cereals. Ms Fowers says that although whole-crop samples are similar to last year with 41.1%DM, 10.2MJ ME/kg DM, 9.5% crude protein and 19% starch, there is huge variation.