2013-08-09   facebook twitter rss

Respect Your Grass – It’s A Valuable Feed

A clamp filled with 1,000 tonnes of high quality grass silage could be worth up to £40,000, according to independent ruminant nutritionist Hefin Richards of the Profeed Nutrition Consultancy, yet grass is often undervalued as a feed source on farms.

Speaking at a meeting in Lancashire organised by seed company DLF Trifolium, Mr Richards said the yield and quality of grass can be phenomenal, and can easily match or beat other crops in terms of productivity and nutrient supply. But it has to be managed well. Farmers cannot turn 200 cows out into a field and just hope for the best, or cut corners when making silage.

Hefin Richards

Hefin Richards

“I try and encourage farmers to see grass as an ingredient that, when grazed or ensiled, can play a primary role in the animals’ diet – supplying energy, protein, digestible fibre, vitamins and minerals.

“In a sense grass is its own worst enemy – it grows and looks green even with little intervention – yet how productive is it? Old swards, containing a high proportion of weed grasses could be producing just 7t of dry matter a year, whereas reseeds with new modern varieties, can produce twice that, and have higher feed value.

“It requires a certain focus and attention to detail to get it right, but grass and quality grass silage can definitely replace some of the expensive bought-in feeds on many farms, with no loss in production, and will usually be better for the animals.”

Breeding for higher feed quality

Plant breeders have invested millions of pounds over the past few decades in producing new grasses superior in aspects such as yield, disease resistance and winter hardiness. As well as these, DLF Trifolium has focussed its efforts on improving feed quality, in particular the digestible fibre element.

At the meeting, Tony Strickland, the company’s grass breeder based in Gloucestershire, explained that fibre plays an important part in ruminant digestion, promoting saliva production - essential for keeping the rumen working properly.

However it is also important that the fibre in grasses can be broken down easily to release the large amount of energy stored within it.

“Research has shown that a 1% increase in digestible fibre increases dry matter intake by 0.17kg, potentially boosting milk production by 0.25 litres/day/cow,” said Mr Strickland.

“Perennial ryegrasses vary widely in their fibre digestibility, and we are investing a great deal of time and money developing and trialling new varieties which are at the more digestible end of the scale.

“We feel this has more potential than chasing higher sugar or protein contents, as there is often a trade off between these two – grasses high in sugar are often lower in protein, and sometimes have lower fibre digestibility. But breeding for better fibre digestion does not adversely affect any of the other important feed characteristics.”

DLF Trifolium

  Related Links
link British Grassland Society Conference
link Wholecrop, A Potential Alternative Forage
link Technology Enables Crops to take Nitrogen from the Air
link Crop Market Update

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