Winter rationing

Published 27 July 12

Time to start planning for winter feeding

"I know it seems a long way off but now is the time to start planning your winter feeding strategy," says Tom Goatman, DairyCo extension officer. "It's particularly important in light of the erratic weather conditions we've had this year, and their effect on silage quality and quantity, where clamps have had to be opened early."

"Silage is the single most important winter feed on most dairy farms and needs to be accurately assessed. Grass silage nutritive value will depend on the sward from which it was made and the efficiency of preservation through fermentation.

"The wet and cold weather conditions experienced over much of the country for the past few months means grass silage quality will be very variable," he says.

"Silage harvested during the brief dry spell in May is likely to be of very good quality however the deterioration in the weather through June and July has caused delayed cutting and harvesting in less than ideal conditions, resulting in an inevitable reduction in quality.

"Low quality, low dry matter (DM) silages will be a challenge when formulating balanced winter rations. Analysing grass silage now will help to assess the nutritive value and fermentation characteristics that will affect animal intake and performance, and help in winter ration planning.

"This initial analysis can be performed six weeks post harvesting but don't rely on these results for the whole feed out period," Tom warns. "Regular sampling is necessary to assess any changes that may be occurring in the silage during the storage period, a secondary fermentation may only become evident 60+ days post ensiling."

He continues, "An accurate assessment of silage stocks is important to winter budgeting. Calculation of the stock available will highlight when any potential shortfalls that are likely to occur and allow steps to be taken early to mitigate them.

"For clamped silage the available stock is calculated by working out the clamp volume (m3) and then multiplying this by the grass silage density (kg/m3).  A good estimate of the density of the grass silage can be derived from the silage DM and clamp height in grass+.

"It is important that any potential waste silage, on the top and shoulders of the clamp, is accounted for, and this is taken off the total stock available to feed," Tom says.

If you can spot possible pressure on forage stocks this autumn it's worth thinking about the following options.

  • If the local ground conditions allow, consider sowing some forage brassicas, such as forage rape or stubble turnips to provide some late season grazing.
  • Look at scratching a bit of Italian Rye Grass into unproductive or damaged (some paddocks suffered extreme poaching during the wet weather pasture. But remember if dry conditions continue germination might not occur in time for you to see the benefit this autumn.
  • Make sure you're making the best possible use of your slurry to boost third cut silage.