Whole-crop peas are worth try
WHOLE-CROP peas are working well as an alternative feed to grass silage and whole-crop wheat for dairy and beef cattle, and offer more protein.
That was the message from John Bax, of Biotal, speaking at last weeks National Forage Maize Day, held by the MGA and CEDAR, at the University of Reading, Berks.
Producers needed to think about the crops they are growing in terms of protein content, he added. "There is a shift away from grass silage. This year Biotal has treated double the amount of whole-crop compared with last year."
But he believed whole-crop peas offered a good alternative to other forages. Red clover had a good protein content, but peas had been a better starch content.
"There are forage pea varieties available, but it is best to grow semi-leafless combining varieties. These are a manageable height, at 3-4ft, have many peas a plant and are relatively easy to grow."
But achieving the crops potential depended on harvest timing. "The mange tout stage is too early. Wait until peas are well formed, but you can still squeeze them between finger and thumb. Then there is starch in the seed." Aim for 35% dry matter to ensure good intakes and avoid over-chopping.
Peas were difficult to ensile, but that could be successful using an inoculant, added Mr Bax. The resulting analysis is typically 18-20% crude protein and 15-20% starch. He estimates the cost of whole-crop peas at £48/t of DM, which compares well with grass silage at up to £73/t of DM. Mr Bax has been developing systems with producers to use whole-crop peas in rations. On one Scottish beef unit whole-crop peas are the only forage fed: This has reduced the amount of ad-lib protein balancer eaten by 40%, he said.
One extreme example is a dairy producer feeding whole-crop wheat and peas as the only forages with 10kg of concentrate. These cows ate 15-17kg dry matter of forage.
In one farm study, whole-crop peas and whole-crop wheat fed with 4kg of concentrate produced a milk yield of 24kg a cow, which compared well with the 24.5kg of milk produced from grass silage and 8kg of concentrate, said Mr Bax. But whole-crop fed cows ate an extra 5kg DM of forage.
Mr Bax believes feed saving of up to £55 a cow a winter are possible with IACS payments for peas or £37 a cow without any aid, through using whole-crop peas in rations. *
• Good starch content.
• Harvest timing critical.
• Offer ration cost saving.