With another challenging start to the year, Tom Tolputt warns that silage analysis is going to be absolutely essential for winter feeding
While the early spring saw some great sunshine, it was cold and very dry. As a result, grass took a long time to get going. According to the AHDB’s Forage for Knowledge programme, growth levels taken on 20th April were 50% down on the same day last year. Unfortunately, things just got worse.
Despite significant long periods of sunshine early in the month, April 2021 had the lowest average minimum temperatures since 1922. And with 20.1mm average rainfall across the UK, the Met Office states it was the fourth driest April on record.
And then came May. According to Met Office data, the UK had the 4th highest rainfall for May on record, with a UK average of 120mm of rainfall—around 160% of the average for the usually dry and sunny month. All countries in the UK have recorded rainfall well above the amount usually expected. (As a reminder, last year the UK experienced its sunniest spring and driest May since records began with 626 hours of bright sunshine recorded for the UK.)
From the data we have so far, those farmers who managed to take an early cut (April) got a much lower yield than expected, although what they did get appears to have good analysis, with high levels of sugars and ME. Those who delayed first cut into early May (between the rain showers) are definitely picking up a lot more bulk, but the quality just isn’t there. The lack of sufficient sunshine since mid-April means we just haven’t got the sugars in the silage.
While silage analysis is important for every farmer, it’s absolutely essential for organic farmers: no one can afford to over-utilise organic concentrates at current prices!
We anticipate that late May cut silage is expected to have a low in ME and protein, and will also require care when balancing rations. Depending on what Mother Nature decides to throw at us over the coming summer months, the second, third and fourth cuts (where appropriate) may well be higher in quality and more productive—but we’re not holding out breath!
Why silage analysis matters
With such variations in both silage quality and quantity this, and with the current price of concentrates, the targeted use of correct ingredients in the ration will be the only way to ensure that margins are maintained.
In this context, silage analysis is going to be more essential than ever and, wherever possible, keeping the different cuts separate so that you can target different qualities at the appropriate animals next winter. But even if first cut is lower in protein than needed for the diet, a second or third cut with a better nutrient profile may allow you to mix the two for feeding rather than buy in expensive concentrates.
Using the results
We are still surprised at just how many farmers don’t regularly test their silage, as well as those who pay to get their silage test results but then carefully file them away in the office without really considering how the information could be used to optimise feeding strategies and save money.
If silage test results are not reviewed – or not taken at all – there is a very real risk of either over-feeding expensive concentrates and other additives to balance the ration (with the associated costs) OR providing an insufficient or inadequate diet for the anticipated production levels.
An inadequate diet is particularly problematic for dairy herds, as it’s not until milk yield decrease that you realise there’s a problem and by that time it’s a long – and inevitably expensive slog – to get things back on an even keel.
Organic protein sources (particularly soya) are once again in short supply this year and prices are very high. While silage analysis is important for every farmer, it’s absolutely essential for organic farmers: no one can afford to over-utilise organic concentrates at current prices!
It’s never too late
We can guarantee that silage analysis will save you money. Get in touch and we can arrange everything for you and offer as little or as much advice you need on maximising your margins. Alternatively, if you get the test results later in the year and want some advice on how best to use the silage you have for winter feeding, we can help with that, too.
Get in touch today on 01503 220002, for a no-obligation chat, or send us a message via our Contact Page. We’re here to help.