Silage Sampling

2nd October 2020

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)

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