Reassess winter feed options
This winter is going to drag on for a while longer, by the looks of it.
The fodder shortage is getting critical for many. Very poor quality and poor value silages are being traded. On one fa rm last week, I re f u s e d t o t e s t b ou g h t - i n bales, and strongly recommended they were sent back t o wh e r e t h e y ca me f r om . T h e y h ad in c h e s o f m o u l d all round, and were totally unacceptable to feed to any animal, regardless of how scarce feeding was.
A t th i s tim e of y ear , w e must begin to review plans for what crops to produce for the coming season.
A f t e r a y e a r wh en m os t h a ve e x p e r i e n c e d v a r i e d quality and yields in all crops, m a n y b e e f a n d d a i ry p ro - ducers are reassessing options for feeding next winter. While looking forward, we should make sure we have accurate data and analysis about the previous year’s forage production.
M a n y a r e l a m e n t i n g th e average crops of grass silage saved in 2017. The same can be said for maize silage in some areas, however many crops were excellent, until Ophelia hit them.
Maize has tested quiet well, w i t h g o od d ry m a t t e r and starch results very common. It really boils down to growing maize in the right site, using the right varieties under plastic, and applying the appropriate crop nutrients. Poor crops of maize in 2017 were generally sown too late, u n d e r - f e r t i l i s e d , or p u t i n average fields without plastic. T h o s e wh o s u c c e s s f u l l y grew maize are now considering increasing their acreage for 2018, with good quality grass silage becoming elusive for many due to weather and other constraints, such as cutting crops from old pastures and rented ground.
A d d i n g a s e c o n d fo ra g e source along with grass silage t o a b e e f f i n i sh er d ie t c an increase forage dry matter intake by 10% to 15%. This will result in less concentrate inputs being required. Crops such as maize silage and whole- crop cereals prov i d e h i gh d ry m a t t e r a n d starch contents for beef farms. B e e t i s a ls o an ex c e l le n t su g a r en e r g y s o u r c e s for finishing beef cattle. Alternative forages have a huge role in beef production in Ireland, as they are generally far more reliable sources of high quality energy for stock, compared to the extremely va r i a bl e g r a s s s i l a g e s pr o - duced here yearly.
Getting crops grown on contract
A v i a b l e o p t i o n fo r s o m e farmers who do not have suitable land to grow alternative forages may be to source them locally from specialised tillage producers.
Do your sums based on a cost per tonne of dry matter of each forage before any decision is made.
Yo u s h o u l d e ve n d e l v e down further, and value feeds based on their cost per unit of energy supplied. Renting ground for silage is often not cheap relative to buying forage at harvest.
Reviewing 2017 grass silage
A silage analysis should be as m u ch ab ou t fo r m u l at i n g a diet with it as learning from mistakes made when saving the crop of grass.
Of the 2017 silag es that I have tested with the NIR4, one thing has stood out for me in particular. A lot of the silages saved are either very dry due to over-wilting, but the opposite is also true, with many extremely wet silages in pits due to last year’s rain in May. The dry silage has generally not preserved well, is heating at feed- out, and many have harmful moulds.
A n d i t i s i m p o s s i b l e for stock eating the wet silage to consume sufficient dry matter.
Ideally, silage should not be on the ground more than 24 hours, unless it is being baled. Grass silage production is getting more and more e x p e n s iv e eve r y ye ar , a n d unfor tunately, its quality can be variable, depending on t h e we a t h e r , cu tt in g d a t e , grassland management, and reseeding policy.
Too much poor or average silage in the pit will increase overall beef production costs.
Planning for good silage
If you are serious about producing quality grass silage, you must have a plan in place. This plan should include an e a rl y g r a z in g s t r a t e g y , or h a v in g grazed the silage ground late last year; a soil nutrient test; a fertiliser and slurry programme; weed control; a reseeding programme; a planned cutting date; and a good ensiling strategy. How many of us can honestly say that we have all of those boxes ticked? This is the time to set your goals for all of these silage issues. Those producing qual ity silage in 2018 will be cutting it in early May, and will have the first application of fertiliser out in the next three or four weeks, weather permitting. Maybe a good strategy for silage production should involve a three-cut strategy?
Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed visiting a Turkish farm which imports Irish cattle, last week: he said Turkey is Ireland’s third biggest market for live exports, taking 16%, and he was confident there are significant opportunities to grow this. He said being able to sell fattening cattle direct to private buyers will open up valuable new opportunities from June, currently this trade is through the ESK state body only.