Making a realistic assessment of silage stocks and careful planning will be important actions to ensure winter forage supplies will last through to turnout says Dai Lewis, technical commercial manager with Massey Feeds.
“The combination of a very wet January and the cold start to February mean the prospects for an early turnout have receded in many parts of the country, putting more pressure on silage stocks,” he says.
“The sooner farmers re-evaluate available stocks and revised diets, the less the risk of running out of forage and the smaller the likely impact on the cows.”
He advises farmers measure clamps and calculate the remaining stock, remembering not all silage in the clamp will be fed so an allowance must be made for waste. He urges being realistic when calculating quantities as overestimating will just cause problems later and also advises getting all clamps re-analysed so you have an accurate analysis available.
“Armed with this information it is straightforward to calculate how long stocks will last at current usage rates. If they will last until after a realistic turnout date, then diets can remain unchanged. But in many cases, it will be necessary to revise diets to ensure stocks last long enough.”
He says the sooner changes are made, the smaller they will need be to achieve a significant impact. The less diets are changed, the better able cows will be able to adjust, meaning the consequences for yield, milk quality and fertility will be less. Leaving decisions to change diets to the last minute and then being forced into more wide-scale changes will have a greater negative impact on performance.
“Incremental changes are definitely the best option. A failure to cut back silage by 5kg/cow/day now might mean having to make a cut of 10kg/cow in a few weeks’ time, which will be far harder to manage.”
When making changes to the diet he advises prioritising cows, suggesting it may not be necessary to change all diets. He recommends making dry cows and fresh calved the priority. Late lactation in-calf cows will be better able to tolerate a change in the diet and respond quicker when eventually turned out.
Where home-grown silage has to be reduced, he says the best option will be to try and buy replacement forage locally. While appreciating that supply and demand will vary regionally, he says for many farmers this will remain the best approach, pointing out that an analysis will be essential to ensure the diet is balanced.
“Where forage is not available, straw and a molasses blend can be a good forage substitute. For example, 4.5kg of silage at 30 per cent dry matter could be replaced with 1.5kg of wheat straw and 1.5kg of a molasses blend.”
If silage stocks are going to be tight, he advises making plans to get some later lactation cows out early if only for a few hours a day. He stresses the importance of identifying drier lying fields and making sure cows can get to grazing without poaching other paddocks.]
“With a delayed turnout, many farms will be faced with tight forage stocks, but by being realistic about available stocks and turnout dates it will still be possible to develop cost-effective diets, which mean you are not forced to turnout. Once plans have been made it will be vital to monitor them closely to make sure you are on track,” Mr Lewis says.