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Flexibility key to winter feeding (Sept 22)

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

The forage situation varies across the UK, but some producers are facing an extremely tight winter when it comes to silage stocks.


After one of the driest summers for 50 years, the forage stocks situation varies significantly across the UK. “But there’s no doubt that producers in the South and South East are struggling after an unprecedently dry summer,” says Rumenation Nutrition Consultancy’s Hefin Richards. “In the North West and Scotland, it’s predominantly been an excellent grass-growing season with regular rain. Areas of the Midlands and Wales have been significantly drier than usual, and many producers are heading into winter with lower-than-target forage stocks. But it’s the South East and East that have been extremely dry, and the forage situation is looking a lot more serious there. Many producers are facing a challenging winter.”

This is the result in many instances of a ‘double whammy’ – not only has grazing burnt off, forcing grazing-based units to feed grass silage and eat into winter forage stocks, but also maize is extremely variable across much of the UK. Unlike 2021, earlier-drilled crops seem to have fared best, with rain in May getting crops off to a good start. “But later drilled maize has typically performed poorly – some producers have even written off their crops and are looking to put an alternative forage in the ground to produce some autumn/winter forage crops to help eke out home-grown feed supplies.”

So what can producers do? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Every farm and situation will require a different approach. But for many units youngstock should be the first focus, according to Mr Richards.

“Save silage for milking cows. Youngstock can grow well on a 20% crude protein concentrate, minerals and ad-lib straw. It may be a little more expensive, but it will help to extend forage stocks, and also helps producers to ensure they can supply the milking herd with a consistent balanced ration throughout the winter.”

Drier silages

Trouw Nutrition GB’s Liz Homer says analyses of this year’s grass silages show the impact of the season. “We have already analysed almost 3,300 first-cut clamps and the trend is for drier silages with higher NDF content, along with slightly lower ME content.

“The 600 second cuts analysed so far are also drier and dry matter is increasing as later harvested second cuts are analysed. NDF content is also elevated, but crude protein across all cuts is lower. This continues a trend seen for several years, but may also reflect reduced nitrogen fertiliser use. “Silages will need careful supplementation to maintain a balanced rumen and to promote dry matter intake.” Mr Richards adds that current forage shortages could also impact on herds as far ahead as summer 2023, particularly in housed system where a TMR is fed all year round. “Producers will run out of 2021 maize sooner than expected, as they alter the forage ratio in rations to mitigate shortages. And those looking at poorer performing 2022 maize crops may fail to harvest quantities to see them through 2023. So that’s something else to keep an eye on.”

Drought conditions have created immediate and short-term issues, but it’s important to look at any potential impact longer term. Forage inventories could well be dented for 12 months or even more.

Co-product options

Co-products will be an option for some herds. “But pressed pulp is difficult to buy, if it not already impossible, because demand has been so high. And Trafford Gold, which is typically fed in the north west, is not so readily available in the south and east, says Mr Richards.

Many of these products are already ‘sold out’ – there’s a good balance between supply and demand so they may be difficult to source. Apple pomace could be one option, and there is usually some local availability near juice/cider factories, but it has become an AD plant feedstock in recent years and supply may well be limited. Look at the herd too. “If you have cows destined for culling – consider bringing that forward. But assess the situation carefully, based on milk production and margins. Weigh up the pros and cons and set these against the milk cheque. Again, each region and every herd in every region will be facing completely different challenges. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.”

“Take a step back, look at the bigger picture and think outside the box. This could be the year you feed and manage your herd completely differently because the summer we’ve had has been particularly tough. Both grazing, grass silage and maize have been put under extreme pressure – it’s rare for all three to struggle. So flexibility is key and don’t discount anything – something you’ve never done before could be just what you need to do.”

Avoiding waste and losses are more critical than ever. Later season grass and maize silage will be an extremely valuable product, and producers should take steps to minimise dry-matter losses. “Clean clamps pre-harvest, avoid soil contamination, monitor chop length and kernel processing, use a reliable and proven additive, consolidate well, and use a quality oxygen barrier sheet, and seal fully.”

Overwintering heifers on stubble turnips could be an option for some producers, as could drilling an IRG ley after maize to take an early bite or cut of silage in April, pre maize sowing. Sowing hybrid rye following maize will produce between 14t and 16tDM/ ha, harvested in late June/early July, which, with some additional starch, could eke out maize stocks and provide an entry for a reseed or stubble turnips in summer 2023.

“Look at what can be done with the land and resources available, as well as managing existing feed and forage stocks and looking at buying-in options,” adds Mr Richards.

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