Livestock producers urged to check silage quality

Experts from Scotland’s Rural College are encouraging beef and sheep producers in Scotland and the North of England to get their silage analysed as soon as possible to give them maximum warning of potential problems they could face this winter.

Whilst early published analysis showed a slight improvement on last years feed value the figures often relate to fields cut during the sunny days of late April or May and generally on dairy farms in central/southern England. For many other parts of the country it has been a poor summer because of cold, rain and sometimes even drought.

According to well known SRUC livestock specialist Dr Basil Lowman, one of many things to have suffered is the quality of silage made for feeding next winter.

“For the vast majority of beef and sheep producers making silage in the conditions of June and July has been completely different,” he says. “The cool conditions reduce the grass growth, but not the date when seed heads emerge, resulting in low yields of quite stemmy material. For many, conditions then worsened still further, with increased and even excessive rainfall.”

Basil Lowman points to evidence showing the huge impact silage quality can have on the amount of winter feed needed, if animal performance is to be maintained.

“The poorer the quality of the silage the less cattle eat. This lower daily silage intake is further reduced by having to feed more barley if animal performance is to be maintained. In some cases concentrate requirements over a 180 day winter feeding period could be increased two or three fold compared with when good quality silage is available.”

SRUC believes that beef and sheep producers who get their silage analysed now give themselves time to plan and prepare for any problems they might face this winter.

“The poor summer will also be reflected in poorer animal performance,” Basil reminds them. “With lighter, leaner animals coming in at housing time there could be a double whammy on cereal and concentrate requirements this winter, just when grain prices are beginning to firm.”

There are options. Calculating now what extra levels of cereals might be needed will allow any home grown crops to be harvested specifically for animal feed. If necessary grain could be harvested moist and then crimped, or even treated with urea, should conditions continue to be difficult at a harvest which is already some two weeks late in most parts of the country.

“Alternatively deals can be struck with arable neighbours to benefit both,” he suggests. “For example combining headlands early as moist grain for stock feed can be a major benefit to growers resulting in a more uniform sample from the rest of the field and significantly reducing drying costs.”

SRUC recommends farmers contact their local adviser or consultant about sampling their pit. This is best done six weeks after it has been filled to ensure the fermentation is complete and the silage is stable. Waiting until the pit is opened when stock come in reduces the options and could result in significantly higher feed costs as winter feed prices kick in.

However whatever farmers are doing around their silage pits this season SRUC urges caution. With lots of wet silage made pits are bulging and slippery and it is important to take a safety first approach.