Experts from Scotland’s Rural College are urging farmers to get their silage analysed before winter feeding begins, as samples reveal extremely low protein levels.
Cattle fed on silage with low levels of protein are at risk of rumen digestion problems which can be fatal. However, if identified prior to winter feeding time, protein shortfalls can be rectified.
It has been suggested that the cold and wet spring and winter months seen in the past couple of years have played a part in the drop. Karen Stewart from the colleges’ SAC consulting beef and sheep team notes that some results from the recent silage study are below safe levels.
She says: “We are very concerned that samples this year have protein levels below the 10 per cent level which we would consider critical for most stock. Most at risk are dry suckler cows, between weaning and calving, where straw is mixed in with the silage they eat. In this situation even silages with moderate protein levels, if they are fed with too much straw, will cause issues with the function of the animal’s rumen”.
While the problem arises more often in silages made for beef cattle and sheep, some silages made for dairy herds are also recording protein levels below 10 per cent. Given the high protein requirements of a cow producing milk this is particularly critical for optimising milking performance.
Ms Stewart continues: “problems with low protein silage can be rectified by feeding more of a suitable protein. If levels are below 10 per cent I recommend taking professional nutritional advice to ensure the most cost effective supplement is used.
If protein levels are low and are not accounted for when rationing, cattle will not perform as well. The simplest and most important point is to find out how much protein there is in your silage by getting it analysed.”