With cereal and straw rations offering particularly attractive current winter beef and sheep feeding options, grazing livestock producers across the country should think more about how much silage they need rather than how much they can make this season, suggests EBLEX – the industry body for beef and lamb levy payers; all the more so with the undisputed value of grazed grass over the summer months.
At an estimated 6.5p/kg dry matter (DM), well-managed grazed grass is undoubtedly the most economic summer feed for beef and sheep. However, grass silage currently costs around 14p/kg DM so wider use of cereals or arable co-products and straw may be more economical over the coming winter for many.
Under these circumstances, integrating conservation particularly carefully with grazing will be more important than ever over the coming season to avoid compromising performance at grass in pursuit of what may well be a relatively expensive winter feed.
Fundamental to this will be making the amount and quality of winter forage that is actually required for the specific stock being kept and minimising all unnecessary losses. After all, the quality requirements of cattle to be finished over the winter months are very different from those of spring calving suckler cows or ewes. At the same time, post-harvest silage DM losses in the field, storage and feeding out can easily amount to 25% or more, substantially increasing the amount that needs to be made and, as a direct consequence, the availability of summer grazing.
Alongside a flexible management approach which puts the clear priority on grazing and focuses silage-making on utilising surplus summer forage, EBLEX recommends:
- Assessing last year’s silage by forage analysis and visual inspection to identify areas for improvement, such as dry matter level, leaf to stem ratio, fermentation quality and proportion of seed heads belonging to sown species
- Soil testing all land that may be used for conservation to make sure potash and sulphur levels, in particular, are sufficient;
- Only utilising fields for conservation if they have swards with high contents of productive, high digestibility grasses and clovers;
- Carefully matching cutting dates to grass ear emergence for the type of silage required – cutting when about 50% of ears have emerged for a 66 D-value forage, earlier for higher quality at the expense of yield and later where quantity is the key requirement;
- Identifying silage made from new leys or high clover swards clearly – storing separately if possible - so their higher quality can be fully utilised in feeding; and,
- Having all silages analysed to enable the most accurate and cost-effective utilisation.
A special EBLEX Better Returns for Silage leaflet is available free of charge to levy payers keen to make the most of this season’s conservation by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0870 2418829.
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