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Silage Sampling

by Calum Littlejohn, ECV Beef & Sheep Nutritionist

With harvest well through and nights starting to draw in, many farmers will be starting to think about their plans for winter feeding. A handy tool that is often overlooked is getting silage analysed. This is a service that is offered by East Coast Viners. Silage can be analysed for lots of things including dry matter (DM), crude protein (CP), metabolisable energy (ME), pH and minerals and vitamins. Travelling around farms I often hear people say that the silage “it is what it is” and that “they’ll have to eat it whether it is good or bad” but the point is that you don’t know how good or how bad it is. By testing your silage, you can make informed decisions on your feeding plan for winter. Upon receiving your results our team of nutritionist can then formulate a bespoke ration that best compliments your home-grown feed.  

Grass silage can make up anywhere from 30-100% of a beef ration over the winter period therefore it is essential to know what you are feeding. In high forage content diets, silage quality is key to improving animal output, saving costs whilst increasing profitability over the winter months. Silage quality is also key to getting cows to the correct body condition score (BCS) of around 2.5+ before calving and throughout the production cycle. Cows should be conditioned scored 3 times a year, at weaning, 60-90 days pre calving and at calving. By scoring at weaning cows can be sorted into groups and turned onto appropriate grazing to either increase or maintain their BCS. By scoring cows again around 3 months pre calving this will allow appropriate time to alter diets if extra feeding is required. This is when silage analysis becomes extremely important. For example, a 650kg suckler cow needs between 75-85 MJ of energy for maintenance. If a suckler cow eats around 9-10kgs of DM then this energy requirement is easily achieved from an 8-9ME silage. Problems can arise when the silage is high in energy and is not rationed properly. For example, the same scenario but the silage is 11-12ME. This would mean that the cow would receive between 99 and 120 ME which would lead to the cows becoming too fat pre calving.

High quality silage must be rationed carefully. One way to reduce the amount of energy the cows receive would be to restrict the level of silage in the diet and mix in some straw. This should be done carefully though, to make sure that CP levels of the whole diet do not drop below 9% in the DM. Depending on the analysis of the silage, feeding additional protein may be required to achieve this. Care must also be taken when feeding a restricted silage diet that more dominant cows do not bully the shyer feeders leaving them with only straw.  We can reduce the risk of this by making sure there is plenty of feed space for all cows. Splitting cows into groups depending on their BCS means that leaner cows can be fed a higher quality diet to gain a bit of condition pre calving. Many farmers feed their heifers separately due to their nutritional demand being higher, as they are still growing, so leaner cows could be moved in with them to help gain condition.

Another scenario where silage analysis is very important is feeding store calves over the winter months. If the silage is of high quality, then savings can be made by reducing the amount of bought in/home grown concentrates that need to be fed without reducing performance of the cattle (see table 1.). On the other hand, if silage quality is not as good as in previous years and the ration has not been altered to take this into account then DLWG (daily liveweight gain) will be reduced therefore days on farm will increase, and the efficiency of the enterprise will decrease. By getting silage tested farmers can plan for the winter by getting rations formulated, selecting the right concentrate to balance their silage and can then start to create more accurate costings for the year. East Coast Viners provide a silage sampling service and our team of nutritionists are always available to create rations to balance home grown feeds/forage. Get in touch today with your East Coast Viners specialist or call us on 01569 740251 to find out more.

 Table 1. Silage quality impact on the amount of concentrates required to achieve a 1kg liveweight gain per day from a 400kg continental steer 

Costings = Silage £35 per tonne fresh weight, Concentrates £200/tonne (AHDB, 2019)

Current Offer 10% off on Full Tonne Orders - until the end of October 2020

With a promising flush of grass for September, the risk of grass staggers caused by a magnesium deficiency is high.  The lush grass can often be low in this essential major mineral.  Low fibre grasses pass through the rumen very  quickly, resulting in a decreased uptake of magnesium through absorption.  Cattle being grazed on fields where fertiliser has been applied have an increased risk of deficiency as both nitrogen and potassium inhibit the uptake of magnesium in the plant.  In turn, this reduces the level of magnesium available to the cattle, it is important to remember that magnesium cannot be made or stored in the body so daily supplementation is vital.  Figure 1 shows the risk of staggers dependant on time of year, with cows being most at risk in the months of May and October.  By giving  cattle access to a constant source of magnesium you can greatly reduce the risk of grass staggers, helping to reach their requirements of 30g/day.

Multi-Mag buckets are always a very popular option. With high energy and mineral contents they are successful on most farms. Another option to supplement magnesium is ECV High Mag Rolls.  Not only is this a good way to check that every cow is receiving their daily intake of magnesium but the added energy and minerals can help satisfy her nutritional needs and  gain body condition lost at weaning, and be source of energy, helping improve conception.  1kg of high mag rolls equates to the recommended 30 grams of magnesium per head per day. Mag rolls are highly palatable and contain a full mineral package.  The rolls are 16mm in diameter so are well suited to feeding on the ground via a snacker – no need for troughs. By feeding cows daily they will become used to human contact which can help with temperament whilst handling in the future, along with highlighting any health issues with cows that are not coming in to eat.

Figure 1: Number of staggers cases by month.

ECV High Mag Rolls are available in bulk, tote bags and in 25kg bags. ECV Multi-Mag buckets are highly palatable with 17% magnesium from 3 different sources and are available in 20kg and 80kg buckets.  Both rolls and buckets benefit from high mag levels and increased availability to ensure cattle absorb enough magnesium to meet requirements and reduce grass  staggers.  Speak with an ECV nutritionist about the best and most cost-effective way to supplement your cow’s  requirements and discuss what suits your system. 

In recent years, the changes and challenges that has faced the livestock sector, in particular the beef industry, has meant farmers have had to become more efficient.  Looking at new ways to get the most out of their livestock, the beef sector has increased the push for efficiency and improving performance.  This all starts with the calves.  With the current ever-changing Scottish weather, there’s never been a better time to start introducing calves to creep feed.  Calves are most economically productive pre-weaning, with the feed efficiency of spring born calves being higher just now than at any other stage of their life.  Their feed conversion ratio (FCR) can be as good as 4:1 at this stage, meaning that 1kg of creep feed could achieve as much as 250g of live weight gain.  Therefore, creep feeding at the pre-weaning stage not only provides calves with all their nutritional requirements, but proves far more cost effective by gaining you a better return.

There is an array of other benefits to creep feeding calves; starch present in creep feed, when converted to fatty acids, helps to stimulate good rumen development.  This allows calves the best opportunity to reach their genetic potential.  Increased weaning weights can be achieved through creep feeding, as well as reducing stress during this period.  This results in less of a growth check along with a reduced risk of pneumonia when being housed.  Feeding creep can reduce the number of days the animal is on farm and provide calves with a better bloom at the time of selling.  These animals will also go on to be finished far easier. 

In addition to this, supplementing calves can have benefits for the cow too.  It can help reduce the pressure in challenging weather, allowing her to recover condition and ensuring optimum fertility for going back to the bull.  All of these benefits can have a big impact on margins and creep feeding can provide one of the best returns on investment.  Figure 1 below shows the nutritional demand of a calf pre-weaning, along with the gap that needs supplemented during this stage to ensure optimum growth and performance. 

Figure 1. Milk yield of a typical beef cow vs nutrient requirement of a nursing calf.

East Coast Viners Second Stage Calf Nut + Xtract is a high spec compound feed ideal for creep feeding.  It features an optimum protein of 17% and high energy at 12.5ME.  Formulated to be high in starch for greater rumen development, it also includes high quality protein sources such as soya for increased levels of DUP.  This creep feed supports high frame growth rates while ensuring rumen efficiency.  This complementary feed is fully mineralised to promote a healthy immune system.   ECV’s Second Stage Nuts are also formulated to include Xtract, an additive proven to enhance animal performance.  This is achieved by improving feed conversion efficiency by up to 7.5%, boosting rumen function and increasing daily live weight gain (DLWG) by as much as 8%.  Methane production can also be reduced by up to 6%. 

By providing calves with a high-quality creep feed to supplement their diet pre-weaning, you are giving them the best opportunity to maximise their potential. Through supporting their development, you are ensuring an economically efficient way to improve performance and boost returns.

By Joanne Hay, ECV Ruminant Nutritionist.

Featured products:

2nd Stage Calf Nuts + Xtract

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By reducing cow size, introducing a new breed and careful nutrition management, Angus farmer, Robin Norrie has increased herd size and improved efficiency in his suckler unit from the same acreage of grass.

Robin is the fifth generation at Denhead of Arbirlot and Glentyrie and runs the productive beef and arable units in partnership with his father Frank and his uncle Douglas.

The farms are spread over around 300 acres ranging from 300 to 600 feet above sea level, with the soil type ranging from some light loamy land to some more heavy clay soils. The Norries grow some 150 acres of malting spring barley and this year have grown around 15 acres of winter barley. The idea behind the winter barley is to get some early barley for feeding along with getting early entry for a hybrid rape mix to graze over the winter. There is also 116 acres of grass and some land is rented out for potatoes and vegetables.

The cattle breed of choice is Stabiliser and the herd consists of 140 cows and 31 heifers which run on the grass. Robin is in the process of implementing a rotational grazing system, which helps him to graze more cattle on a smaller acreage of grass. As well as grazing, 800 bales of silage are made which is often from paddocks that have been taken out of the rotational system due to increased grass growth. Robin also treats around 400 bales of straw with ammonia for feeding over the winter.

Over the past 10 years the Norries cows have reduced in size by around 100kgs to an average last year of 640kgs at winter, and this, combined with changing to the Stabiliser has allowed Robin to keep another 40 cows on the same amount of forage.

Stabiliser bulls are put in with the cows around the start of June and run for 10 weeks. Due to the Stabilisers having a slightly shorter gestation period, calving begins the first week of March. Robin said, “Over the past four years we have achieved a 93% weaning rate from cows put to the bull.”

Cows that have calved are turned out to grass around the end of March depending on the weather. ECV Second Stage creep feed is offered to the calves from July/August onwards. This has increased calf weaning weights along with reducing stress and health issues due to calves being adapted to a different diet before weaning at around 190 days old. Last year at weaning the cows averaged 624kgs at a body condition score of 3.5.

All replacements are home-bred apart from some heifers that were bought in 2019 and heifers are vet checked, pelvic measured and calved at two-year-old. They also sell some heifers, which are proving to be highly sought after, regularly being spoken for before weaning.

Male calves are left entire and finished using as much home-grown feed as possible. In 2019 Robin made use of East Coast Viners’ grain processing mill for bruising his barley while treating it with Home n’ Dry. Over 100 tonnes of grain was treated in a process that took around four hours. The barley was bruised at around 17% moisture with Home n’ Dry applied at the same time. The treated grain was then covered and stored for two to three weeks to allow the pellets to release ammonia throughout the grain before feeding to the bulls.

Although Home n’ Dry increases protein, Robin wanted even more protein for growth and turned to ECV for help. ECV nutritionist Calum Littlejohn said, “We formulated a 20% protein concentrate which contained our Alka beef mineral + Xtract + Biosprint at a high enough level to be fed at five parts alka grain to one part concentrate. The balancer added different sources of protein to the ration along with molasses which helped increase palatability and DMI.”

Robin weighs his bulls monthly throughout the winter to make sure none go out of spec and was delighted to see that his bulls averaged 1.8kgs DLWG from weaning until the end of February. Once the Alkagrain ran out the bulls moved onto ECVs Alka Intensive Beef Blend however for another year Robin plans to keep more of his own barley therebye reducing bought-in feed.

The first of the bulls were finished at just over 12 months and Robin hopes to have them all away by the time they are 14 months old at R and U grades.

Along with selling finished bulls Robin has taken the decision to start selling Stabiliser bulls for breeding. The bulls are low birthweights with great temperaments and have not been pushed. They have been grown slowly on a ration of silage and no more concentrates than 4kgs/head/day.

Moving forward Robin is looking for ways to increase his efficiency and therefore profitability. He commented, “Beef production cost in the UK is too high and we are striving to find not only cheaper but more efficient ways to produce beef. We cannot alter the beef price so we must focus on the things we can change such as nutrition, genetics and health to get the most things we can change such as nutrition, genetics and health to get the most out of our cattle.”

In a time where home haircuts and home schooling have become commonplace, the nation has never been so receptive to the importance of where their food comes from.  When the nation filled trollies in a panic, our customers pulled on their wellies and worked hard to meet demand and fill shelves.  The general public have since realised the great importance of locally produced food and retailers.  Butchers, bakers, and farm shops are all helping to meet demand with fresh, local produce and many offering home deliveries, especially important to high risk customers.    

At East Coast Viners we are exceptionally proud to have been part of an industry that helps keep families fed.  When some people turned to binge watching Netflix, dairy cows still needed milked, ewes continued to lamb, cows still needed fed, potatoes planted, and cereals sown.

At the mill we quickly adapted, like many other businesses to follow guidelines and keep our customers safe.  Social distancing took a bit more adjusting to for a company so traditionally hands on.  We had feed advisors on loaders at 11pm filling much needed orders and nutritionists taking to video calls to allow them to give informed advice. All members of staff have had to become flexible in their roles, including the road sales team helping to bag and load feed when needed.

Dairy nutritionist Lauren Frew has been taking advantage of Microsoft Teams to assess body condition score, rumen fill, lameness, and general health of the cow. These video calls have also allowed Lauren to look at ration consistency and dung formation.  Lauren is a great believer in the value of assessing dung to tell us more about digestive health and feed efficiency.  The software has also allowed our nutritionists to share and discuss silage results with customers, just like we would on a farm visit, just socially distanced and safe.

The management of ewes prior to tupping and all the way through pregnancy has a major effect on the number of lambs born and hence profitability of the sheep enterprise.

This was the message which came out of a series of two sheep nutrition meetings hosted by East Coast Viners Animal Nutrition recently. Both meetings, at Inverurie, and Perth were attended by over 60 farmers keen to maximise the outputs from their flocks.

Calum Littlejohn, part of the beef and sheep nutrition team with ECV explained that body condition scoring (BCS) was critical to monitoring the condition of ewes but pointed out that once the ewes are pregnant, it is very difficult to change the BCS.

He advised minimal stress during early pregnancy and maintain the plane of nutrition. He said, “In mid-pregnancy, the ewe should not gain or lose more than half a condition score of body weight, in an average size ewe, that is three to four kg.”

Most farmers know that late pregnancy is the critical time with 70 per cent of foetal development in the final eight weeks of pregnancy, however rumen space is a challenge at this time and if a ewe has a poor BCS, it is too late to change it.

He said, “A ewe carrying twins will have an energy requirement of about 11.4MJ/day seven weeks before lambing; by one week pre-lambing this has risen to 18.3MJ/day with very little rumen space, so it is important to feed high energy and protein at this time.”

ECV Animal Nutrition have a range of ewe feeds suitable for attaining the correct BCS at tupping and feeding throughout pregnancy to maintain BCS and optimise lamb numbers and survival.

The Rolls Royce of the range are the XL Ewe 18% nuts and rolls, which not only have Megalac, a rumen protected fat, to promote milk production, but also Amino Green, a rumen protected protein, which is beneficial to the health of both ewe and lambs.

The whole range contains quality ingredients, vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E and Selenium, which promote ease of birth and lamb vigour.

Calum, said, “It is very important to look for value when buying feed for pregnant ewes, always read the label and look for quality raw materials such as fibre and protein.”

Euan Hart, regional manager with Scotmin Nutrition, which produce the Megastart Ewe and Lamb mineral tubs sold by ECV, focused on feeding ewes for colostrum quality and milk supply. He said, “Unlike cattle, when sheep lamb their milk production is pre-determined and there is not a lot you can do about it with feeding, so the critical period of nutrition is the last four weeks pre-lambing when colostrum is being produced.”

He emphasised the importance of colostrum with the optimum for a lamb being 50ml/kg of liveweight within six hours of birth. He said, “Colostrum is gone in 24 hours, as has the lambs ability to absorb it, so the most important aspect of lambing is to have vigorous lambs, up on their feet quickly and receiving good quality colostrum; that is what we feed for.”

A recent study of dead lambs under a week old in Wales showed that 28% were related to lack of colostrum and, just to put it in perspective for the assembled group, Euan said, “One litre of colostrum has the same energy as five mars bars!”

He advised that Megastart tubs should be available for four to six weeks before lambing. They provide ewes with, not only an excellent source of energy and a high quality rumen bypass protein combined with minerals and vitamins, but also a unique MOS designed to activate the animals’ immune system and improve colostrum quality.

Steven Eddie, ECV Beef and Sheep nutritionist rounded the evening off by discussing molasses-based liquids for ewes as a source of energy during pregnancy.

He said, “Molasses is a source of sucrose, a 6-carbon sugar which helps with the digestion of fibre and the production of microbial protein in the rumen. It is ideal for giving ewes an energy boost during late pregnancy when their rumens are space restricted.”

The Sheepmol brand produced by ED and F Man is sold by ECV and is a high dry-matter, high sugar blend of cane molasses, glycerine and liquid co-products formulated specifically to feed sheep. There is also a Sheepmol Plus which has added vitamins and minerals.

Bush Farm at Crathie, Ballater, is home to Ron and Margaret Finnie, who with son Gavin and grandson Graeme run 3000 ha at Crathie near Ballater. Margaret keeps the books and records.

The Finnies take seasonal grazing close by from Glentanar Estate, Mar Lodge Estate, Mar Estate, Abergeldie Estate, Banteith Midmar, Tamnagorm Midmar and Hillhead of Kintocher, as well as contract farming at Glen Muick.

The Bush is a mix of upland and hill and rises from 1200 ft above sea level. Most of the land is used for grazing. 20 acres of a long-term clover and rye mixture is reseeded using a direct drill every year to keep clean fresh pasture. The Finnies also contract drill for neighbouring farms.

200 acres is cut once for silage each year and they also cut silage for Balmoral Estate. All the silage is baled. Aftermaths are grazed by weaned lambs. Sometimes the Finnies make hay, but not this year as there is plenty left over from last year.

The herd is comprised of 135 limousin cows and heifers. Ron bought his first limousine in 1985. All the replacements are home bred.  Limousin cattle are easy calved. We stopped buying in cows about 10 years ago, the cows would be pure limousin, but they are not registered,” said Ron, “The breed produces calves with great conformation”. Limousin bulls are used at the Bush, these are bought from the spring show at Thainstone and Stirling mart.

There are 30 back end calvers and the rest of the cows are calved in the spring. All the cows are calved outside with a pre-calving ration of big bale silage and easy calving minerals. The heifers are bulled between 15-18 months and are taken inside to calve to keep a close eye on them. After calving the cows get additional draff and ECV Suckler Booster Rolls added to the ration. “ The cows milk very well with the rolls. Milk production is key for a healthy calf” Gavin added. Calves are weaned from the spring calving herd the following January. The calves are fed ECV 17% Stock Nut from day one. Gavin sometimes mixes sugar beet pulp through the ration.

The spring calves are sold in April at Thainstone Mart and UA Huntly at an average weight of 380-400kg. ECV’s Rebecca Stuart added, “Creep feeding from day one makes the most of the calves’ feed conversion efficiency.” Hoppers go out in the back end and creep feeding starts then, before the calves are housed in mid-October, when they are taken inside prior to sale in the middle of January. “Feeding the calves a good creep all winter gets them looking their best for the spring sales,” said Rebecca.

Spring is an extremely busy time at the Bush; as well as calving, the Finnies have a flock of 2500 breeding ewes to lamb, with help from a team of 8 working dogs that help gather off the hills. The flock is made up of Blackfaces, Greyfaces and cheviots. The past few years the Finnies have used New Zealand Suffolks on the greyfaced ewes, this has produced excellent quality lambs that are easy lambed. Blackface tups are bought from Stirling, Border Leicester tups from Kelso and cheviot tups from Dingwall. The flock are tupped as gimmers, “lambing kicks off on the 20th of April with the next batch lambing at the beginning of May”. Everything is lambed outside with pens inside for ewes that need extra assistance.

The blackfaces and cheviots are given high energy and protein tubs. Greyfaces get ECV 18% Ewe Rolls. All ewes get neeps at lambing time to boost milk production. Gavin keeps his own ewe lambs for replacement, the remainder get fattened with the wedder lambs. Greyface lambs are weaned in September, Blackfaces in October and turned out to the silage aftermath. They are then moved onto a stubble turnip and rape mix. The Suffolk cross lambs usually fatten off of this alone and are killed at Portlethen. The blackface and cheviot lambs get a hopper along with the forage mix of ECV Lamb Finisher pellets. “Lambs finish quick and kill out at 20kg DW” said Gavin.

At East Coast Viners we recently held our annual Family Fun day.  Staff and their families, from both our mill and the Forbes farms, enjoyed a variety of fun activities including a climbing wall, bouncy castle and clay pigeon shooting while the kids also got to meet calves from the farm.  This was all topped off with a delicious BBQ where over 250 burgers and sausages were devoured!

The Booth family, Graham, Kathleen, Kyle (11) and Emma (4), farm at Lower Cushieston, Inverurie. They have sown 115 acres of spring barley this year, Sassay and Lorriet.

They try to get most away for malting, but need 80T for their own use. Combining is done by a contractor. The Booths grow pea silage undersown with grass. This is usually cut in July, and made into bales. Graham said, “I decided to use this to get more bulk of silage, and think that the cows are more satisfied with the pea silage, which analyses out well.”

Grass is in a rotation and it is ploughed down every four or five years. This year there is 24 acres of grass silage. “We usually take two cuts, and got a second cut of grass silage after the peas last year.” Graham makes all the silage into bales, and gets a contractor in to wrap it. “We don’t usually make hay but might make some this year off of set aside parks, because we usually buy hay in for additional feeding for the cows.”  

There are 32 Simmy and Limmy cross cows, and 80 store stirks (Charolais, Simmies, Limmies) are bought in from Thainstone or Huntly in the spring. They are bought at 350-400 kg. They are housed until there is sufficient grass growth in the spring, and then put out to grass. 30-40 of these stores are sold off the grass at Thainstone as conditioned stores about 550 kg. The remainder, and Graham’s own calves, are brought in around September/October. They are sold at Thainstone at the end of February around 550-650 kg.

Graham uses a Hereford bull, “The cows calve easily and the calves have a lot of vigour. The Hereford cross fleshes very well, putting on weight at grass.” Cows calve in the spring, from March until the end of May. Some of the heifers are put back out to grass with next year’s stores and grazed over the summer, then sold at 17 months, “Some of these are bought for bulling heifers”.

The cows are housed in November and get ad lib silage, pea silage, and straw pre-calving. This is mixed in a tub feeder. Alkagrain is added to the ration post-calving. ”I find that the pea silage keeps the cows’ condition good.”

At grass, the stores get a grazing mineral and Himalayan rock salt. “Before housing, they get a little Alkagrain fed through the feed cart.” Once housed they get the same forage mixture as the cows, and Alkagrain ad lib in a hopper. “I used to treat the barley with propcorn and buy a protein mineral, but when I read that the Milnes were treating barley with Home n’ Dry, I thought I would try it, and have been delighted with the results. Robbie has been bruising barley here for ten years and adds the Home n’ Dry to our barley, which we then cover for two weeks while the Home n’ Dry raises the protein of the grain and turns it into Alkagrain.” Graham is very pleased with the results, “The treated grain is rocket fuel and folk at the mart comment on how well the cattle are looking.” ECV Nutritionist Rebecca Stuart said, “Graham has saved money on the cost of treating his barley, and no longer needs to buy expensive protein concentrates. Customers feeding Alkagrain regularly achieve DLWGs of 1.8kg or better. The alkaline nature of Alkagrain makes it a very safe feed.” Graham added, “I have no problems with laminitis or acidosis on the ad lib Alkagrain.”

“We were 150 bales of straw short last year, but the DLWG of the cattle is much better with the Alklagrain, so we got the cattle away quicker, which was a big saving. Feeding more of my home- grown cereals is much better.”  Graham treated 80T last year. “The barley was treated at 18-20% moisture which was much better than in 2017, when it was coming off the combine at 27%!! I’m planning on using Home n’ Dry again this year. Robbie and James are very efficient, and do a tidy job.”

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