Re­assess win­ter feed op­tions

Irish Examiner - Farming - - BEEF SECTOR -

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 brian@pfn.ie

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.

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