Making the best use of cereal based forages

Published 27 March 14

Making the best of cereal based forages

Conserving cereal crops can help offset the impact of a difficult grass silage season, as Biotal National Technical Support Manager, Roy Eastlake explains.

Farmers growing cereal crops for ensiling or who can purchase standing crops, can use cereal forages to help overcome the limitations of a poor first cut and developments in harvesting and preservation technology mean farmers have more choice about the stage at which they harvest the crop.

First, calculate the amount of grass silage in stock and estimate second cut and maize yields, so you can make a decision about how much wholecrop silage is required.

Where you are likely to be short of grass silage-making, fermented wholecrop silage can help you provide sufficient total forage. But make sure you use a crop-specific inoculant, as the high dry matter puts the forage at risk of heating and moulding during feed out.

Later harvested crops should be considered more as a concentrate and will require processing or milling, via the forage harvester, to ensure all the grain is utilised by the animals. The feed will have a higher starch content but less effective digestible fibre due to the processing of the grain.  

The final option is to harvest as crimped grain, which provides a high energy, moist concentrate, replacing combined grain in the diet and allowing a possible saving in purchased feed.  

The crop is passed through a crimping machine, which breaks open the seed coat to expose the starch prior to treatment with an inoculant and ensiling. As crimping involves combining crops around three weeks earlier than a conventional harvest, it is important to make a decision to crimp grain as soon as possible.

Fermented wholecrop and crimped cereals need to be ensiled with a specialist inoculant to improve aerobic stability, inhibit the growth of yeasts and moulds and reduce heating. In numerous trials worldwide, inoculants which contain Lactobacillus buchneri NCIMB 40788 have produced a more stable forage and feed, leading to subsequent improvements in productivity.


Why fermented wholecrop?

  • Improving milk production from forage improves margins from reduced concentrate costs and improved cow health, fertility and longevity
  • Cows require a consistent ‘rumen friendly’ diet
  • Grass silage and maize silage (if able to grow) are at weather dependant times of year
  • Grass silage is a very variable crop
  • If grass silage falls short, fermented wholecrops can make up forage short falls
  • Catch crops, such as short term grass, forage turnips and kale can be sown after wholecrops for feeding dairy replacements so saving valuable conserved forage for lactating cows
  • Can be produced from wheat, barley, oats, triticale (winter or spring)
  • Fermented wholecrops are consistent and harvested in a better weather window
  • Fermented wholecrops provide starch in a rumen-friendly form and structurally digestible fibre
  • Spring barley is an excellent way to introduce a new grass ley
  • Winter wheat and spring barley are normally harvested as fermented wholecrop at the same time


Summary to incorporating fermented wholecrop in your forage plan

  • Plan a forage strategy to provide the total quantity of quality forage required per year
  • Fermented wholecrop cereals and bi crops can reduce the risk of forage shortages
  • As part of a balanced diet, fermented wholecrop cereals can improve cow health and performance  by improving rumen function
  • It provides a valuable and rumen-friendly source of starch
  • It reduces the risk of a ‘poor forage year’
  • Fermentable wholecrop cereals and peas provide valuable nitrogen for follow-on crops
  • Fermentable spring sown wholecrop cereals are a great cover to introduce a new grass ley
  • You must apply good harvesting and ensiling management and for optimum wholecrop you need to use a proven crop specific inoculant