Traditional forages such as grass and maize provide energy, but can be relatively low in protein. That suggests a need to boost production of on-farm protein rather than buying it in, says Masstock national forage manager, Brendan Paul.
“The ideal complementary forage produced alongside traditional crops must produce enough protein to make up for the levels found in forages such as maize. Obviously, pulses will score higher in terms of protein – ranging from 15 to 19% – while cereals are limited to between 6 and 7%.
“When energy content is important, then barley, peas and spring vetches or mixtures of these species may offer the best option, as they offer a combination of both high energy and protein,” adds Mr Paul.
But, to maximise feed value, crop choice is essential, recent trials suggest. Results indicate that oats are way ahead of other cereals in terms of dry matter. But lodging and poor performance of undersown grass suggest that included in a mix or as a nurse crop they can be outperformed by other crops.
“Because most spring whole-crop options are in the ground for 14-16 weeks at most, fields can be used for grazing or silage later in the season, either by reseeding after harvest or using whole-crop as a cover crop for an undersown ley,” adds Mr Paul.
But it is important to consider cover crop qualities in each variety sown. Crops such as vetches and forage peas are susceptible to lodging, which could damage undersown leys, particularly in areas where harvest is difficult to predict.
Triticale, previously only available for winter-sowing in the UK, is now available as a spring-sown forage crop suited as much to marginal land as it is to more fertile lowland soils. Coupled with the development of a white lupin variety, the two provide considerable opportunities for on-farm forage production.
A mixture of spring triticale and white lupin can provide both high quality protein and respectable yields, even on marginal ground, reckons Soya UK’s David McNaughton. “Uplands rely on spring drilling and in some areas as much as 90% cropping is spring grown. This, in the past, has ruled out winter varieties of triticale and lupins. But now they are both viable options, particularly as they are low input and agronomically simple.
“This is the most significant crop development for the UK livestock industry since maize was introduced. Farms as high up as 1000ft are able to achieve respectable yields.” Not only this, he adds, but harvest requires no special kit.