While early maize silage analysis points to high quality, livestock farmers should keep an eye on the impact of this year’s forages on rumen health – and should not be tempted to open up clamps too early.
Reflecting the 2018 maize season, samples have been coming in sooner than usual for analysis.
And Dr Liz Homer, ruminant Technical development manager at Trouw Nutrition GB says, worryingly, over 15 per cent of samples were inadequately fermented, suggesting a rush to get the feed into diets driven in part by reduced overall forage stocks.
She says: “It is important that maize is correctly fermented in order to optimise milk yields and cow health. Feeding incompletely fermented crops should be resisted. The fermentation will be unstable, increasing the risk of spoilage, while any analysis will not be representative of the final feed.”
Overall, the results for the first 500 samples analysed by Trouw Nutrition GB show generally good feed values. Dry matters are averaging 32.8 per cent with a higher proportion of drier crops which is a consequence of the excellent weather at harvest.
Energy measures are good with 11.7MJ/kgDM and 31 per cent starch. NDF and lignin levels are lower. Starch degradability is the same as in 2017 but, as starch content is higher overall, there is an increase in bypass starch.
“The headline figures show that some good maize silage has been made and, in crops that have completed fermentation, the characteristics of the fermentation are good,” Dr Homer continues.
“However, when we look at how the forage may perform in the rumen, it is clear careful balancing will be needed to maintain good rumen health.”
Dr Homer explains the acid loading of both grass and wholecrop silage this year have been higher than usual. Maize also has a high acid load, in part due to increased starch levels and high starch degradability. Low lignin content means overall maize could be more digestible.
“The outcome is that maize is high in rumen fermentable carbohydrates which will contribute to diet acid loading. Farmers and nutritionists will need to watch acid loading carefully and it may be prudent to replace cereals with more fibrous energy sources like soya hulls to help balance the rumen.
“While rumen fermentable carbohydrates are high, the level of rumen fermentable protein is low, making it necessary to consider including other rumen fermentable protein sources like rape and soya to ensure the optimum balance of energy and protein in the rumen.
Dr Homer urges all farmers to get maize silage analysed once fermentation is complete and clamps are stable.
“Maize has the potential to contribute significantly to diets this winter, but it is essential to understand the feeding characteristics of your own crop and balance the diet accordingly.”