2016-06-01   facebooktwitterrss

Quality Grass Silage Key To Cutting Feed Costs

Grass silage offers beef finishers a significant opportunity to boost returns, with relatively small, simple and low cost adjustments potentially helping many units make better use of their cheapest and most valuable feed resource.

This was the view of Germinal’s Ben Wixey at Beef Expo 2016, who said that the impact of sub-standard silage could be increasing as more beef finishers turn to indoor systems for higher growth rates or greater precision in finishing.


“We are seeing more cattle finished on total mixed rations akin to dairy farms, with grass silage more often than not being the basis of diets,” he said. “But as on so many dairy farms, grass silage is the weak link, lower in quality than it could be and requiring more bought-in supplementary feed than should be necessary.”

Mr Wixey pointed out that average reseeding rates across the country are too low, which means many silage leys will be underperforming. However, even with older leys, there are some management decisions that could pay dividends as the grass harvesting season approaches.

“First and foremost, it is vital that silage leys contain the best quality ryegrasses,” he said, “but whatever the state of your swards going into this current season, there is still a lot that can be done to maximise the feed value of grass silage.

“Simply cutting at the optimum stage of growth can mean a difference of several D-value points, raising the ME of the silage and boosting the growth rate potential.  

“Cutting around one week before ear emergence is generally considered to be the optimum stage for quality and yield. In a well-managed perennial ryegrass ley, this should mean a D-value of 70–75 (ME of 11–12MJ/kg DM).

“As a rule of thumb, when about half of the tillers in a grass crop are at ear emergence, the D-value will already be down at 67, and will decline further at around half a percentage point each day thereafter. There will be more bulk, but the nutritional value will be lower.

“Aiming for quality not quantity may well mean lower bought-in feed costs next winter.”

Whilst these measures should help secure better quality grass silage this season, Ben Wixey added that improving the raw material would generate even better returns in future for a large majority of beef finishers.

“We estimate current reseeding rates are at around 2-3% each year,” he says, “which means many leys are being expected to perform well beyond the 8-10 years that we can expect sown species to remain, even under the very best management conditions.

“So in many cases, silage leys will contain large proportions of weed grasses, which yield less, are of lower quality, and do not respond as well to fertiliser as modern ryegrasses.

“Investing in more regular reseeding may seem like an added cost, but the payback from grassland that is capable of delivering far higher yields of better quality, higher intake forage, will be achieved very quickly.

“Furthermore, when making the investment in reseeding, be sure you maximise the value by selecting the best available varieties from the independent Recommended List. Choose the best varieties for the purpose, and consider details like compatible heading dates within the mixture, as these small points can make a significant difference.”


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