Dont just hope for best if you think you are light on silage
By Jeremy Hunt
MILK producers who feel they are only slightly short of silage this winter and do not plan ahead are more likely to make costly rationing misjudgments than those with a clear forage deficit.
Cumbria-based Axient consultant Stuart MacLennan says those with borderline forage shortages should not hope for a short winter and an early turnout. Instead silage assessment should be based on the worst scenario.
There is a wide variation of silage stocks; some farms are estimating a 5% shortfall, but others are looking at 20%. "Estimate how much silage is clamped based on an intake of 10-12kg a cow of dry matter a day depending on cow size and forage quality."
Silage can be replaced in-part with brewers grains, Vitagold, sugar beet, fodder beet or potatoes. Even vegetable waste or bread waste could be considered.
"Those who have not secured brewers grains may wait several weeks for delivery. When there is a risk that winter supplies may be irregular it could be worth considering supplementing grains with potatoes.
"Potatoes are costing £12.50-£20/t. They are a useful bulk feed that complement grains, providing energy and helping balance high protein silage," he says. Mr MacLennan recommends feeding potatoes at up to 6-8kg a head a day mixed with a similar amount of brewers grains.
But whatever feeds are used to bolster silage it is essential that a regime is fixed at the start of winter.
"Swapping and changing the diet must be avoided. Plan your strategy and secure your supplies." Sugar beet and maize gluten, both at about £75-£80/t are still competitive when set against brewers grains or other clamped moist feeds. But ensure diet fibre levels are maintained with additional straw when feeding maize gluten.
Where purchased feeds are likely to increase winter costs it is essential that cows are grouped efficiently. "Monitor cow groups throughout winter to ensure you are getting the best possible return on your feed costs by targeting fresh calvers and high yielders."
Mr MacLennan urges managing silage clamps immediately, not waiting until half-way through winter. Clamp walls should be marked to indicate how much silage is being used each day.
"Only by knowing what you are using now can you effectively plan to cover the next four months." But he believes producers 5% short of silage are more likely to take risks and end up with a serious shortage before spring. "A producer 20% short of silage knows it is a problem and has to address it."
"To replace silage you can comfortably feed 15-20kg of brewers grains a head a day. On one local farm, we will feed about 4kg of dry matter as brewers grains, which gives a replacement rate of about 25%-30%."
But before buying-in silage check its quality. North-west silage analyses show low sugar levels and low dry matter. When feeding these lower quality silages producers must ration their cows carefully when balancing them with cheap cereals.
"Watch the diet cereal content and take account of high levels of lactic acid identified in many silages.
"Consider soda-treated cereals, but beware of feeding ground cereals with poor quality silage; they could easily overload the rumen. It should also be possible to maintain energy levels and milk proteins with sugar beet." *
• Act now even if only 5% short.
• Buy in bulk feeds.
• Group cows to save costly overfeeding.