Attention to detail needed to get best from grass silage

The latest results from Trouw Nutrition GB confirm the early indications for the prospects from first cut grass silages and provide new information on second cuts and wholecrop.  They highlight that considerable variability means forages will need careful monitoring to optimise performance.

The Trouw Nutrition GB analytical laboratory, the largest testing facility in the UK, has now tested over 2100 first cuts and 1170 second cuts, making the data sample the most significant and robust available to farmers and nutritionists.

“The results confirm the impact of the extended and inconsistent harvest season for first cuts which has had knock-on effects for second cuts,” Dr Liz Homer explains.  “The variable quality within and between clamps is going to present some practical challenges but farmers who analyse clamps regularly will be best placed to make the most of forages this winter.”

While there are some very good quality first cuts, the overall picture is of silages with low crude protein content and high NDF levels.  These will have consequences for the supply of rumen energy, the choice of protein supplementation and on rumen flow and intakes.

The average first cut is 33.6% dry matter, 11.3MJME/kgDM, 12.9% crude protein and 44.5% NDF.  For second cuts analysed so far the average dry matter is 35.5% with 10.9MJME/kgDM, 13.5% crude protein and 45.7% NDF.  However, Dr Homer emphasises that there is a considerable range between crops and while the averages give a good overall picture, it is vital farmers analyse their own clamps regularly.

Many grass silages have low protein and high NDF

Many grass silages have low protein and high NDF

“Looking behind the headline figures, the analyses indicate that the rumen will need careful balancing with fermentable carbohydrates and protein.  Rumen fermentable protein will be needed to balance the rumen but bypass protein will also be important.

“It will also be important to keep a close check on acid load and fibre index to maintain good rumen health.”

Dr Homer says early wholecrop analyses suggest good dry matter content and starch levels with slightly higher energy overall.

She stresses there is no doubt that rations will need careful fine-tuning this winter to ensure the rumen is balanced and to take account of variations in silage quality between cuts.  She recommends farmers to take a proactive approach and increase the frequency of analysis so they have a sound foundation for ration formulation and the choice of supplements to optimise income over feed costs.

“Don’t wait for the rep to call or for cow performance to drop before taking a silage sample.  For a 250 cow herd we would recommend sampling clamps approximately every three weeks.  Taking a representative sample can be done in the time it takes the mixer wagon to mix a diet so time should not be an issue.  As results are typically back in 24 hours you will be well placed to decide on what changes to make, if any.

“Then watch how the cows take to the diet, paying close attention to manure consistency, feed refusals and signs of sorting.  By paying close attention to detail it should be possible to make the best use of this year’s forages,” she comments.


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.