Intake’s the challenge with this year’s silage

Getting cows to eat enough silage is likely to be a challenge for many dairy farmers based on the results of the analysis of first and second cut grass and wholecrop silages carried out by Trouw Nutrition GB.

According to Ruminant Manager Adam Clay the results show that the silages made this year are worse than last year and actually poorer quality than the silage made in 2012, a year characterised by poor production over the winter months.

“Our initial look at over 400 first cuts indicated that farmers would be faced with generally poorer quality forages. Now that we have the results of considerably more first cuts, several thousand second cuts and over 500 wholecrop samples it is possible to draw a more accurate picture of feeding prospects.”

The table compares forages made in 2013 and 2014. For grass silages the picture is one of lower dry matters and reduced ME levels. In the majority of cases second cut is better than first cut, due to a combination of harvesting conditions and the quality of material harvested, many first cuts comprising more mature grass.

Mr Clay says the biggest problem is reduced intake potential across all grass silages, as animals do not produce from ME alone. He stresses that intake is key to achieving efficient production and warns that this may be the biggest challenge facing farmers this winter.

“The intake factor for first cuts is 12.9% lower than last year, which means cows will be less enthusiastic about consuming high quantities. This, coupled with lower quality means that milk yield from forage potential will be significantly reduced. Second cut intake potential is marginally lower than in 2013.”

He says it is vital farmers look at the intake potential of their silage and plan accordingly. “Two silages of the same ME but different intake potential will feed very differently and this will have a huge bearing on performance.

“Increasing concentrates will help offset the reduced production from forage, which will be helped by the current lower prices. This will need to be carefully monitored to ensure that rumen health is not compromised, especially as many silages are wetter with increased acid loading. Diets should be formulated to allow cows to achieve high energy intakes without excess rapidly fermentable carbohydrates, which would increase the risk of rumen acidosis.”

Mr Clay says that wholecrop should complement grass this winter which will be a bonus. Dry matter, ME, starch content and intake potential are all higher than last year. The higher ME combined with the greater intake performance could be worth a litre/cow/day in increased milk from forage. Higher starch content will help to drive milk yield and milk proteins.

“Ration formulation to maximise contribution will be a challenge, but not insurmountable. I would urge farmers to get forages analysed regularly and to take all steps to improve diet presentation and access to encourage cows to be keener feeders to help overcome potential intake problems.”

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