Act now to lessen the effects of forage shortages

This week’s cold snap, which has once again hindered any signs of grass growth, means forage stocks should be assessed carefully, with some farmers already running short.

Farmers should be working on the assumption of potentially having cows in until April, with several options available, says independent nutritionist Melanie White. “Purchasing additional silage or stretching existing stocks by introducing other feeds are the two main options.”

And there are several good forage replacers available according to independent beef consultant David Hendy. “There are quite a lot of roots available at reasonable prices such as fodder beat, sugar beet, stock feed potatoes, parsnips and carrots. Wet feeds such as pressed sugar beet pulp and wet citrus pulp are also reasonably priced and work well when fed with straw,” he adds.

Wheat feed is looking better priced and brewers grains are worth looking out for, but it’s important to remember the importance of rumen fill, adds Mr Hendy.

“When incorporating anything new into a diet it’s vital to make sure it is balanced and some fibre material is still included to provide rumen fill. When feeding concentrates be cautious and don’t feed too much as animals are likely to put on too much condition,” he warns.

Having forage analysed and prioritising its use for different groups of animals is also important where stocks are short, says EBLEX’s Duncan Pullar.

“Good quality forage should be given to youngstock and growing animals, whereas for suckler cows and ewes, straw-based rations mixed with appropriate supplements such as rolled barley or wheat as an energy substitute is an option,” he says.

Saving the best forage until the last month of lambing is also an option, says ADAS sheep specialist Kate Phillips. “Decent forage is needed up to lambing, so when stocks are low, feeding straw and a compound mix will help make up the shortfall.”

However, while straw feeding may be an option for ewes housed indoors, straw feeding outside can be hard, she adds. “For hill farmer’s snacker feeding of a compound feed may be the best option.”

But when changing any ration it’s important it is done gradually, says Ms White. “Any change in diet should be done over a period of a couple of weeks which is why budgeting now is essential.”

Finding alternative forage is also an option that shouldn’t be ruled out, adds Ms White. “Buying in forage is never easy, but when alternative, good quality forage can be found at the right price, it is the best option.

“Maize silage can be reclamped quite effectively compared to grass silage which can’t. And although baled silage is the most convenient option, with prices at about £40-50/t it could be cheaper to find an alternative source,” she says.

However, when purchasing additional forage, make sure it’s value for money, adds Ms White. “Its vital silage is analysed so the relative feeding value of the silage can be worked out and also factor in to account costs need for delivery to farm.”