In light of the recent wet weather, Rob Fowkes, nutritional advisor at Quality Liquid Feeds urges farmers to plan ahead for next winter and put in place a strategy to minimise the risk of reduced forage stocks.
Mr Fowkes says: “Wet weather conditions across the country may mean that producers have turned cows out onto a larger grazing platform than previous years, eating into land that would normally have been ear-marked for silage.”
This may help to ease forage shortages in the short-term however this could lead to problems next winter warns Mr Fowkes.
“If youngstock are yet to be turned out, I would recommend keeping them in if possible so that you can shut up this extra grass for silage,” he says.
If this is a possibility, Mr Fowkes advises conserving available forage stocks by reassessing and altering the ration and replacing a proportion of the forage with straw. However, to avoid a drop in intake and performance as a result, this needs to be carefully managed.
“Including a molasses-based product can allow a higher proportion of straw to be fed without any detrimental effects. As it’s highly palatable, it encourages feed intake as well as binding the ration together which will reduce the opportunity for sorting,” he says.
A second option, if cows are out at grass, is to restrict the amount of time they are out, however an adequately balanced buffer feed will need to be provided to ensure nutritional requirements are still met.
“For cows, you can increase the amount of straw in the diet to 3kg and/or switch to a lower quality forage by adding molasses to the diet,” he says.
As with the youngstock ration, when feeding straw or poorer quality forage, it will be critical to include something palatable in the ration to maintain feed intake.
Aside from conserving valuable forage stock, taking this approach can help make the most of the grass available.
“The NDF levels in grass are currently low due to fast growth, meaning it will pass through the rumen rapidly. Providing a buffer ration with the inclusion of straw and molasses, will slow down the rate of passage, increasing the time available for nutrients to be absorbed,” he says.
“This will stabilise the availability of sugar and protein from the grass, allowing it to be used by the cow more efficiently, ultimately leading to increased performance.”