Analyse protein levels to eke out winter forage

Dairy farmers are being urged to assess feed stocks and analyse the protein content of home-produced forage before buying in winter cover.

Chris Savery, specialist in dairy nutrition for The Dairy Group, says not enough attention is paid to protein available in grass silage, or the proportion of grass silage to maize silage that can be fed.

“By knowing your forages well and seeing that protein levels are at cost-effective levels of about 17%, farmers should use all sources and find a blend that fulfils their needs,” he says.

Mr Savery suggests buying in cover for the first half of the winter. “A balance needs to be struck between energy and protein levels and in terms of energy, soya is higher than rapeseed. However, there is pressure to use treated rape due to the cost of soya, currently priced at more than £400/t,” he adds.

Phil Clarke, dairy nutrition specialist from P and L AgriConsulting, says in current rations he would advise using less soya and instead feed more protected rape, rape and wheat distillers.

Mr Clarke believes the lower cost of rape seed meal makes it a useful protein inclusion. “Protected rape products make rapeseed behave more like soya in that they are less available to the rumen and more digestible in the hind gut and are great value for the winter,” he says.

According to figures from KW Alternative Feeds, switching soya bean meal for a rapemeal-derived rumen bypass product could result in a feed cost saving of more than £700 a month for a 200-cow herd feeding 4kg a cow a day of protein meals.

Mr Clarke also says wheat distillers by-products from the new bioethanol plants could influence the rapeseed price by increasing competition. “This by-product is a different protein type to rape, but with superior energy and from a cost-effective source,” he says.

For low yielding cows, Mr Clarke recommends feeding a high inclusion of maize in the diet with the addition of feed grade urea where grass silage quantity and quality is poor. “This provides a cheap source of rumen degradable protein,” he says.

Dairy farmers need to continue to physically look at their silage as well as getting regular analysis performed as quality can vary considerably. Experts recommend sampling silage bi-monthly to avoid limiting performance or increasing feed costs.