Alkalising home-grown cereal to produce a protein-rich and risk-free, high energy concentrate feed has turned out to be an astute business move for Cumbrian livestock producer Paul Coates.
As a result of changing feeding systems, Paul Coates has also saved on significant grain drying costs and made stored feed in the barn less attractive to vermin.
Mr Coates runs 1,000 ewes on his 170-hectare (420-acre) mixed farm holding at Armathwaite, Cumbria.
The flock is made up of 800 North Country Mules, 170 Scottish Mules and a few Cheviot Mules.
Lambing starts in February and continues until the beginning of April.
Making the most of what livestock feed he can grow on his own farm has always been central to Mr Coates mixed farming philosophy.
He says: “We have traditionally fed our own cereals to our livestock to minimise bought-in feed costs, but the practice was getting more challenging.
“This is partly because our grain drier has seen better days and, frankly, we do not really have the manpower or want to make the substantial investment that would be necessary to keep it running efficiently.
“I had heard quite a bit about the alkasystem nutrition-improving approach and because we have also lost a few lambs in the past to acidosis problems, we creep feed ours intensively to try and get them away quickly, so I thought we would give it a go.”
With his 2018 barley crop coming off the combine at 18-20 per cent moisture and with the aforementioned drier issues making drying the crop unattractive, Mr Coates took a different approach.
Acting on advice from local ACT nutritionist Andrew Heron and Rob Cockroft from FiveF Alka, he alkalised 200 tonnes of the recently harvested cereal.
Alkalisation quickly releases ammonia into the subject crop. The resultant crops and feeds are alkaline, digestible and stable, and have an increased protein content. The ammonia treatment also deters vermin.
Mr Coates says: “Andrew Heron first formulated the alkalised barley into our total mixed ration for the ewes which they move onto about four weeks pre-lambing.
“It worked well and we produced a great crop of lambs. But it was when creep feeding the lambs with it outside through our snacker, on dry ground alongside the ewes in the spring, that we really noticed a significant benefit.
“In the past we have bought-in proprietary lamb creep feed and fed our own dry barley and then finished some of the later lambs on stubble turnips.
“However, this has sometimes been problematic for the early season lambs simply because you will always get a few gorging themselves and suffering acidosis.
“We have even lost lambs in the past. But thanks to feeding the alkalised barley this year, we did not lose a single lamb and saw growth rates averaging out at about 250-300g per day, which I thought was phenomenal.”
As a result, Mr Coates was able to get 450 finished lambs away to Woodheads by mid-June this year and he says he was able to achieve this without buying-in any expensive protein.
“Our own barley analysed out at 10.5 per cent crude protein, but by alkalising it we not only produced a more stable, energy-rich feed we are also getting a protein uplift to about 14 per cent.
“It has given us a high starch home-produced fattening ration for our lambs and has been a real eye opener for us. I am now exploring how we can feed more of our own combinable crops to the cattle as well. Mr Heron adds that when using home grown cereals it is imperative to not only balance the diet for major nutrients but also minerals.
He says: “As bought-in feeds have these included as standard, these need to be added on-farm to maintain animal health and performance. In Paul’s case, we carefully balanced a specific mineral for different stock: lambing ewes, finishing lambs and the cattle, taking into account the whole diet, historic health issues and expected performance.”