The weather has made for testing conditions, but for farmers who opted for early maturing varieties and selected for high energy values, the maize crop still promises high quality silage which can help reduce purchased feed costs.
This is according to Richard Camplin, technical manager for forages at LG Seeds.
He says: “In the past, farmers have had to accept a yield penalty when selecting an early maturing variety, but this is no longer the case.
Many early maturing varieties will produce high yields, but increasingly the focus is on feed quality which drives production and intakes.
“At LG, our maize breeding programme places considerable emphasis on feed quality with the best varieties becoming Limagrain Animal Nutrition [LGAN] accredited.
“These varieties are assessed on key factors including dry matter [DM] content, DM yield, starch content and yield, metabolisable energy [ME] and cell wall digestibility [CWD].”
Mr Camplin says 50 per cent of the total energy in maize is in the vegetative parts of the plant, so improving the utilisation of this material has a considerable impact on production.
He says: “CWD is a measure of the extent to which animals are able to digest plant fibre.
The higher the CWD, the better the potential feed value of the plant.
“Across maize varieties, there is up to 20 per cent difference between digestibility of the stem and the leaves.
At LG, we have focused on improving the digestibility of the green parts of the plant for the last 20 years.
“The farmer is looking for this combination of yield per hectare and nutritional quality, because the more energy which can be derived from maize, the less feed that needs to be bought-in.
“The higher fibre digestibility increases intakes and enables the forage to move more quickly through the animal.
“In a major feeding trial carried out at the Schothorst Institute, cows fed LGAN varieties produced 0.
43 litres/ cow/day more than cows fed nonLGAN varieties, demonstrating the economic benefit of selecting varieties which produce a better quality and more digestible feed.”
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Mr Camplin says while the varieties have exceptional potential, timely harvest is vital if this is to be maximised.
Plants remain green even when ripe and, as a consequence, ensile better because they do not become papery.
He says: “Once maize turns brown and begins dying off, the lignification process is advancing and the digestibility of the crop is reducing.
Cutting at the right time, when the crop is still green, will aid fermentation in the clamp and will mean the silage will feed out better."
Results of trials of LG’s new variety, Prospect, which appears on the BSPB/ NIAB Descriptive List for the first time in 2020, are promising, according to Mr Camplin.
He says: “Trials show Prospect will perform well on both favourable and less favourable sites and has a good level of starch and digestibility, so will fit in well with any feeding system.“
The part of the cell walls which gives the plant structural strength to prevent it from collapsing is lignin.
It is indigestible and produced in greater quantities as the plant matures.
“As lignin content increases, CWD declines, but LG breeders have managed to neutralise the impact of increasing lignin as the plant matures in Prospect, enabling it to maintain exceptionally high CWD.
“Varieties such as Prospect and Pinnacle mix extremely well with grass silage when fed as a mixed ration, because of the higher digestibility of the maize fibre.
“In all the Limagrain variety trials across Europe, we have seen increased feed intake efficiency, milk quality and yield as a result.”
Nick Sercombe has led radical change at Knaptoft Hall Farm, Leicestershire, which has resulted in exceptional performance across the dairy herd.
Since becoming farm manager in 2013, Mr Sercombe has overseen the development of a green field site to create a new purpose-built unit to accommodate an almost three-fold increase in cow numbers.
The 600-cow all-year-round calving herd averages 10,500 litres at 3.95 per cent fat and 3.35 per cent protein, compared to the 7,700-litre average for the 24-head herd Mr Sercombe took over.
This impressive improvement has been driven by prioritising the highest quality forage and seeking to drive intakes while maintaining the correct nutritional balance within the diet.
He says: “Our cows are fed a total mixed ration comprising maize, grass and wholecrop, to which we add a blend and sugar beet.
Before we moved to Knaptoft, maize had never been grown on the farm, but in 2014 we drilled 14.5 hectares for the first time.
“Now maize is a vital component of the ration, providing starch and ensuring forage is consistent.
This year we have grown 130ha and we are hoping for similar quality to last year where maize analysed at 35 per cent starch and just under 12 ME.”
Variety choice is central to achieving the desired quality and Mr Sercombe works with Simon Boddle, of Nickersons Seeds, to ensure those selected suit the farm and meet the required specification.
Mr Sercombe says: “Our variety selection focuses on forage quality.
Because half the energy of a maize plant is in the vegetative parts of the plant, I am looking for high CWD and a feed consisting of at least 30 per cent DM and 30 per cent starch.“
This is because the high CWD means the energy content of the feed increases, but we also see improved rates of digestion, which in turn promote higher intakes.”
This year Mr Sercombe grew four different varieties: LG Ambition accounted for 30 per cent of the total; and three other LG varieties, Emblem, Prospect and LG30179, made up the remainder.
He says: “We are expecting a yield of 42 tonnes/ha this harvest, so this will give us 5,400t fresh weight.
We are particularly excited about the new variety, Prospect, and it will be interesting to see how it analyses and feeds out.”
Mr Sercombe feeds 20kg/cow/day of the total mixed ration using a Keenan VA25 Doberman feeder.
High yielders are housed all-year-round and fed for M+30 and the lows, M+25.
Low yielders are fed slightly less maize and are turned out to graze.
By selecting the best quality varieties of maize, Mr Sercombe hopes to gain 0.2MJ/kgDM more energy (200MJ/tonne DM).
This equates to 36 litres from each tonne of maize.
Based on the 5,400t of freshweight maize grown at 30 per cent DM, Mr Sercombe expects to make 1,620t of DM.
Mr Sercombe could therefore produce more than 55,000 more litres of milk from forage.
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