I have tested over 100 different maize silage samples this winter, with each sample seemingly bettering the previous!
The 2014/2015 crops rarely exceeded 25pc starch content, with dry matters maxing 28pc. Last year's crops have been averaging 32pc dry matter and I have recorded starch contents as high as 38pc.
Where this quality of maize silage is being used, concentrate usage can be significantly reduced.
If the success of 2016 encourages people to resume growing maize or grow the crop for the first time, a number of key of factors should be considered.
After a number of years of debate, it is now clear that Ireland is a country where maize should only be grown under film - barring a handful of extremely favourable sites.
The selection of the correct variety will be influenced by location, site selection, sowing date and targeted harvest date.
Varieties are divided between early maturity, intermediate maturity and late maturity.
The general rule of thumb is that in the northern half of the country, it's advisable to select an early-maturing variety; intermediate varieties are best in the middle section of the country and late-maturing varieties are best in the south.
Over the past few years, wholecrop cereals have become a somewhat forgotten forage.
Performance and the resulting reputation of wholecrop cereals has been unfairly tarnished in recent years due to a number of reasons:
- Undersowing spring cereal crops with grass, lowering crop quality and effectiveness
- Harvest date too early or too late
- Lack of use of an appropriate additive, resulting in poor fermentation and high losses at feedout
When harvested at the correct stage, barley, wheat, oats and triticale all make for excellent sources of wholecrop cereal.
These forages can be fed to all grades of livestock, from young calves to intensively fed finishing animals. I always hold a preference for wholecrop wheat in intensive beef finishing rations.
However, wholecrop oats can double up as both a forage source and a digestible fibre source in similar intensive rations. After a horrendous harvest season in certain parts of country in 2016, perhaps those with cereal acreage and an adjacent livestock enterprise should give serious consideration to the option of wholecropping.
From all reports, fodder beet supplies are running tight in all the main growing regions. There has certainly been a rekindling of interest in the crop over the past number of years.
A greater appreciation of the crops feed characteristics and benefits, particularly in finishing animals, has also increased.
Specialist growers are now highly professional with regards crop agronomy, harvesting, cleaning, washing and chopping and advising on storage of the root crop.
In addition to all the benefits maize silage, cereal wholecrops and fodder beet have for a livestock enterprise, on arable land they are hugely beneficial as part of good crop rotation.
Seed catalogues and variety trials for any of these alternative forage crops would certainly make for some worthwhile bedtime reading in the coming weeks.
Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist based in Co Louth
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