Merchants taking a lead in importing high quality straw

Stock image. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Stock image. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Charlotte Good, Milly Walsh and Annabelle Cannon at the vintage harvest day in Ahiohill, west Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle

Gerry Giggins

I recently spoke at an IFA county executive meeting with my headline topic being how to stretch scarce fodder supplies and alternative feed options this winter.

Judging by the feedback from those in the audience, no livestock farmer, regardless of their stocking rate, has been untouched by this drought and the consequences will reverberate well into 2019.

On the night and over the past number of weeks I have been reiterating the importance of conducting an accurate feed budget, which will determine whether forage is in deficit and if so, by how much.

Beef industry standards here in Ireland generally budget a minimum of 40pc of the animal's intake from forage in a finishing diet, 80pc forage in a weanling and lactating suckler cow and 90pc in the diet of a dry suckler cow.

The balance of these intakes can be made up of long fibre such as straw and hay, root crops, distillery and brewing by-products, cereals, proteins and digestible fibre sources. In many cases, the above standards will have to be adjusted this winter due to the obvious shortages of forage and straw.

Where silage supplies are at a premium but straw is available, then the forage content can be halved across all categories of stock.

For finishing cattle, reducing the forage content to 10pc of their intake is possible, provided the energy, protein and digestible fibre sources are correctly selected and balanced.

It appears that a number of merchants have acted quickly and taken the lead in the importation of high quality straw, straw pellets and nutritionally enhanced straw.

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This will hopefully help to avoid any panic buying and importation of inferior quality straw deeper into the winter.

It is well documented that the amount of Irish grain and straw available from this year's harvest is reduced in comparison to previous years.

This is due to a number of factors, including the reduced acerage of grain - not helped by the difficult spring conditions, reduced yield potential of all crops and the sizable amount of cereal crop area that has been harvested as wholecrop.

This shortage has highlighted the importance of the Irish cereal sector and how a sustainable tillage industry is required by all livestock farmers here.

The shortfall in Irish cereals will be made up with the importation of grains, mainly maize grain. The most popular form of maize grain found on Irish beef farms is fine ground maize meal (aptly named fine meal in the south of the country and yellow meal in the north).

When maize is ground into this form, there is a limitation as to the amount that can be fed, roughly 40pc of the total concentrate component. When maize grain is toasted or alkaline treated, the feed rates can be significantly increased.

There is currently a huge demand for all digestible fibre sources. Beet pulp, soya hulls and citrus pulp have been used throughout the drought to help satisfy animal intakes and extend grass supply, particularly by dairy farmers.

There is now a fear that there will be shortfalls in supply of these feeds during the winter months. Tight supplies have resulted in huge prices rises to the unlikely point where they are currently trading above the price of cereal grains such as barley, maize and wheat.

Animal performance

With reduced amounts of digestible fibres available, balancing rations, without compromising ration quality, rumen health and animal performance will be a challenge.

The use of a quality rumen buffer and yeast will offset the lack of digestible fibre. I hope we won't witness a scenario where low energy, poorly digestible feed ingredients that carry anti-nutritional values become the norm. I have noticed sunflower hulls, rice bran, faba bean hulls, wheat feed and the dreaded palm kernel beginning to take a more prominent position on feed dockets.

The protein feed markets have remained moderately stable in comparison to energy and digestible fibre feed sources. Soya bean meal, at the top end of the price market, has increased approximately 10pc since the turn of the year. This in turn has increased the prices of other protein feeds such as rapeseed meal, distillers and corn gluten.

Unfortunately, feeds which were commonly available to cattle finishers to stretch or replace fodder such as potatoes, vegetables and by-products are also very difficult to source.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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