National Forage Conference

Piers Badnell, DairyCo extension officer, attended the Biotal National Forage Conference on Wednesday at Reasheath College, Cheshire. Below are some brief bullet points from the main speakers.

Professor Limin Kungis is an international authority on silage fermentation. He is responsible for the silage fermentation lab at the University of Delaware, where he leads research into ruminant nutrition. He spoke on the changes that occur during ensiling and how these processes continue during storage and affect the nutritive value of the feed.

  • It's important to know what things change in the silage and what doesn't.
  • Small continuous changes can occur in silages stored for prolonged period of time.
  • There are 4 phases of fermentation - 1 aerobic, 2 lag, 3 fermentation and 4 feedout.
  • Concentrate efforts on 3 and 4.
  • In stage 3 it's important the air gets out as quick as possible - start fermentation sugar to lactic which means acid ph drops faster and the process is better.
  • There is more dry matter and energy of crop conserved. If there is too much air fermentation is slower, ph doesn't drop as low, meaning lower quality and total DM yield.
  • Roll to get air out and plastic on as quick as possible.

When is ensiling complete? - most people think 3 weeks.

  • With maize, protein fibre and digestion remain the same after this period but starch digestibility improves over time. At day 0 = 67% at day 270 =80% (Der Bedrosian and Kung, 2010).
  • Soluble N and ammonia N in maize silage increases with long term storage.
  • With grass silage - soluble N does increase.
  • Wet grass means low sugars butyric silage - butyric gets worse over time, extending fermentation and leads to a reduction in quality and utilisable yield.

How to improve silage?

  • Top class pit management means getting the air out quickly and using inoculants - It gets the lactic acid up quicker and ph down quicker, meaning less heating in clamp. It doesn't use up protein energy and you don't loose dry matter.
  • Make sure you keep the air out.
  • Prevent sheet ripping or air getting in in any way as losses will mount up.

How long before using maize silage?

  • Traditional view is 4-8 weeks but optimum 4-6 months. You get the benefits of increased starch digestibility.
  • Need a carry over of maize - this does have a cost implication in terms of storage extra land - so work out the figures gained of extra digestibility over cost.

Dr Mary Beth Hallis is a research scientist with the US Dairy Forage Research Centre in Madison, Wisconsin. She spoke about how to exploit the carbohydrates and physical forms that forage brings to the diet.

  • Look at your cows. They will tell you that something is happening but sometimes it can be difficult to work out exactly what they are saying to us.
  • Maintain rumen health and ph and animal health follows.
  • Physical effects of fibre - increase rumen function, rumination drop, rumen acidosis - You need the right amount, too much will slow rumen and DMI.
  • Could your cows perform better? - ask them.
  • Look at dung for grains passing through, this affected by cracking the grain shell so bugs can act.
  • Length of fibre - longer holds grain in rumen longer and bugs have a longer time to work on the grain.
  • Sieve dung to make sure rumen working - not greater than 1cm particle size.
  • At least 40-50% of cows not eating, sleeping, or drinking should be ruminating.
  • Cows have very few hobbies, so they sort their feed. Don't let them choose.
  • Look for up to 50 mm particles, well mixed, moist diet, does not sift apart.

Andrew Thompson is managing director of dairy consultancy Promar International, a Genus owned business.

  • Volatility will be there in the market.
  • Build a resilient business.
  • Forage excellence builds this.
  • Forage is profit driver irrespective of system.
  • The lower feed costs, aligned with lower replacement, vet & med and forage costs all carry through to the bottom line.
  • Turnover is critically important, but only when the costs are managed with it.
  • Whatever your system, commit to it and do it well (high in high out, cf, low in low out)
  • The production and utilisation of forage, in virtually all cases, will be the cheapest form of food available.
  • The right cow for the right system is crucial
  • As are a high performing team of staff to grow and develop the farm business.
  • Get used to volatility, because it isn't going away unless we change the face of UK farming.

Mark Yearsley is farm manager at Reaseheath College farms. He outlined the way in which forage is managed at the Reaseheath unit to deliver high performance levels from the college herd.

  • Efficiency per cow all important.
  • Higher concentrate costs.
  • Lower Milk Prices.
  • Need to optimise production from available resources.
  • DMI is king to drive milk production.
  • Dairy cows are very sensitive to smell and to taste. Their diet has to be attractive.

What drives it?

  • Forage Quality.
  • The right fermentation (rumen ph 5.7- 6).
  • Presentation.
  • A combination of forages.
  • Digestible Fibre (Physical Structure).

Key Objective - To increase dry matter intakes with alternative home-grown forages, whilst maintaining yield and reducing concentrates.

For 2012:

  • Under-sow peas/barley whole crop and Lucerne.
  • Increase dry matter intake by 0.5 kg/cow/day.
  • Reduce concentrates from 3.9 to 3.4 t/cow.
  • Maintain yield.