Making the most of silage stocks this winter will require regular assessment of clamp quality.
Initial results show there is a huge variation in silage quality and there will be considerable variation within the clamp as well.
Yet many farmers rely on a single sample representing just one millionth of the forage in the average clamp as the basis for winter rationing.
This year, more than ever, it will be important to get clamps tested regularly so you have a better idea of the silage actually being fed.
The variability is a direct consequence of the dreadful spring weather. There is a wide range in cutting days and crop maturity while harvest conditions have caused big variations in dry-matter content. Many farmers have clamps made up of several attempts to gather first cuts.
The range in dry matter is a big cause for concern as this will affect rumen fermentation and also dry matter intakes.
While average results are around 31%DM, the wettest silages are closer to 20%. Lower protein and energy contents in some samples will also impact on how well the diet is used.
Diets will need careful balancing this year and this will mean regular re-assessment of the diet to take account of actual silage quality as over, or under-estimating silage quality will hit margins.
With dairy compounds costing around £250 per tonne you don't want to be feeding any more than is necessary.
Equally if silage quality drops then extra supplementation will be required to ensure cows continue to milk and get back in calf.
It will be important to take steps to maximise dry matter intakes, especially as poorer quality silage can suppress appetite.
Ensure cows have plenty of access to feed as they will typically spend five hours a day eating, consuming 10 to 15 individual meals in that time.
Aim for a minimum of 60cm per cow of trough space to maximise intakes. You want them to be able to eat quickly and then lie down and ruminate.
Make sure feed is pushed up regularly too. Also make sure your cows have access to the feed trough for as much of the day as possible. Don't shut them away from feed.
If feeding a TMR the target dry matter should be 40 to 45%. Where wet forages are fed it may be necessary to mix with drier feeds, while with very dry silage moist feeds and molasses may have a role to play. Finally, water is really important. Make sure the cows have access to a plentiful supply of clean fresh water.
The secret to maintain margins this winter will be close control of feeding to ensure cows make the best use of available forages and that supplementation is cost-effective. Regular forage analysis will be essential.
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