Silage testing (or silage analysis) is a vital tool to help farmers optimise feeding strategies and save money, says SWFC’s Tom Tolputt
Most farmers know that silage testing (or silage analysis) is good practice. They recognise that the nutritional value of forage will vary depending on multiple factors: the age and composition of the ley; whether it is first or a later cut; and perhaps most importantly, the season — both in terms of growing conditions and the weather when making silage.
But we are still surprised at just how many farmers don’t regularly test their silage or those who get their silage test results and then carefully file them away in the office without really considering how the information could be used to optimise feeding strategies — and save money.
2020 silage yields are down
The cold and wet weather at the beginning of 2020 led to a slow start for grass growth for many areas of the UK, before the weather flipped and conditions became hot and dry – also not great for grass growth!
Quite a few farms in the Southwest reported low yields for the first cut, although some welcome rain later in the season allowed for compensatory growth and better yields for third cut in most cases. However, lower total silage yields this year makes it even more important to make the best use of what forage you have.
Using silages tests
If silage test results are not reviewed – or not taken at all – there is a risk of either over providing concentrates or other additives to balance the ration (with the associated costs that this entails) OR providing a diet that is not sufficient for the expected production levels. This latter is particularly problematic for dairy herds, as quite often it’s not until milk yield decreases that you realise there’s a problem – and by that time it’s a long slog to get things back on an even keel.
This year, our experience (which is mirrored by others who have reported on silage analysis) is that silage is generally quite high in dry matter compared with previous years, while protein is generally down. Having said that, variability between different cuts can be quite high.
While we’d say that silage analysis is important for everyone, it’s absolutely essential for organic farmers: no-one can afford to be over-utilising organic concentrates at current prices.
Third cut this year was often not only better yielding than other cuts, but better quality, too. So even if first cut is lower in protein than is needed for the diet, if there’s a second or third cut with a better nutrient profile, the answer may be to mix the two for feeding rather than buy expensive concentrates.
Some reports also show low fibre index and high acid load for first cut. We haven’t seen this as so much of a problem, but if this is what your results show, it might be possible to manage this by mixing silage from different cuts to create the total diet.
Organic protein sources (particularly soya) are in short supply this year and prices have rocketed as a result. While we’d say that silage analysis is important for everyone, it’s absolutely essential for organic farmers: no-one can afford to be over-utilising organic concentrates at current prices.
It’s never too late!
So, if you haven’t done any silage testing yet, it’s not too late. Get in touch and we can arrange it all for you. If you’ve had the test results 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 using our Contacts Page. We’re here to help.