Balancing Winter Rations ‘Crucial’ As Silage Results Reveal Pitfalls

Farmers are being reminded that careful balancing of rations and analysing silage regularly this year will be vital for farmers to maximise output and cut feed costs, a UK farmer-owned cooperative has said.

200 first-cut silage samples taken by Mole Valley Feed Solutions from across the UK were found to be less digestible, with a higher fibre content and lower energy value (ME) than in previous years.

Rumen fermentation could also be restricted if rations are not balanced appropriately, due to a reduced lactic acid to volatile fatty acid (VFA) ratio.

Robin Hawkey, a senior nutritionist at Mole Valley Farmers said: “Balancing of rations will be needed this year if silage analyses show a low lactic acid to VFA ratio as this affects rumen function.

“The ideal ratio is at least 4-5, but this year’s result is only 2.73, last year being 4.43.”

Despite the results, Dr. Hawkey says farmers have the potential to increase margins, even with high feed costs, by identifying the nutrient content and balancing their winter feed. However, it will rely on them getting the most from their silage and maximising feed efficiency.

Dr. Hawkey suggested that dairy farmers include live yeast in the ration to help cows digest the higher fibre, lower D-value silages reported this year so far.

“Testing silage monthly and adjusting rations accordingly will be important to maximise feed efficiency,” he said.

“Although silage results show lower energy, protein levels appear okay, meaning less supplementation of protein may be needed. This is a win for farmers’ pockets and the environment.”

Dr. Hawkey also advises farmers to test silage if they notice a drop in production or a change in the cows, as it could indicate a shift in the silage quality.

Silage Additives

The Mole Valley Farmers’ senior nutritionist recommended that farmers use additives in later cuts to help improve overall fermentation.

“Additives help improve fermentation, enhance the preservation of nutrients from the fresh crop to the ensiled crop and reduce dry matter losses,” he said.

These additives can be regarded as an added cost, but Dr. Hawkey believes they are “worth the investment” due to the increased value of silage in the clamp.

“The economics of the current circumstances means where silages were worth historically £30/t in the clamp, they are now worth far more, possibly £50-60/t.

“An additive now costs about £1.40-1.50/t, so if it helps improve the silage fermentation and reduce the losses, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Mycotoxin Risk

The nutritionist also said that farmers should be aware of the mycotoxin risk, which could quickly become a problem with farmers opening their clamps early (with restricted grazing availability) and high temperatures.

He said:

“Mycotoxins are produced by specific fungi or moulds and tend to be a problem in drier silages. If farmers don’t move across the face fast enough, secondary fermentation and mould formation can pose a significant risk to cows.”

Mycotoxins are also a risk when there isn’t adequate fermentation, leading to more unstable faces of those drier silages.

“Mycotoxin binders are very effective and work quickly and cost 7-8p/cow/day,” he said.

(Source – agriland – Breifne O Brien – 02/08/2022)

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