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Wednesday 19 September 2018

Gerry Giggins: Cattle will continue to thrive if they have shade and clean water

Wheat, barley, oat and triticale crops are all capable of being harvested as wholecrop.
Wheat, barley, oat and triticale crops are all capable of being harvested as wholecrop.

Gerry Giggins

It's hard to believe that I started my article this time last month by welcoming the much-needed sunshine - and now many livestock and crop farmers are suffering from significant moisture deficits.

On all light soils grass growth has stagnated, whilst on heavier/cooler soils the high temperatures have forced grass plants to head out prematurely.

Grass quality has taken a hit. Where grass plants are struggling, the old observation of cattle maintaining thrive in warm weather still rings true - provided they have some shade and an ample supply of fresh, clean water.

From the early forage budgets and feed calculations that I have conducted, it is clear that there will be various degrees of forage deficits on farms.

Forage stocks were obviously depleted this spring and while first-cut silage was of excellent quality, the quantity on many farms was reduced.

In some cases, second-cut silage ground has had to be grazed, which will further squeeze forage supplies.

The recent spell of fine weather has certainly benefited winter cereal crops, with disease burden low and yield potential looking good.

These crops are now fast approaching maturity. Livestock farmers that are short of forage could consider harvesting their own grain crop as wholecrop or purchasing such an alternative forage from a local tillage farmer.

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Wheat, barley, oat and triticale crops are all capable of being harvested as wholecrop. They all have the potential to provide a high quality forage, depending on the grain yield of the crop.

The two most common types of wholecrop are fermented wholecrop silage and high dry matter alkaline wholecrop.

In the case of some winter cereal crops, they have now passed the stage of being suitable for making fermented wholecrop. For this forage, harvest should take place when the grain is at the soft cheese/ dough stage.

The silage will ferment naturally using the sugar from the grain.

A starch content of 25pc-35pc will be common for a crop with good grain yield; however lower grain yielding crops with a high straw content will be hard-pressed to reach starch levels of 25pc.

As with all silage, good compaction and good covering is crucial as well as bird protection in many cases.

I strongly recommend the use of an appropriate additive to be applied at harvest. This helps to reduce secondary fermentation at the pit-face, provided that it is managed correctly.

The use of fermented wholecrop in conjunction with grass silage in ideally at a ratio of 50:50, but there is no limit in the amount of wholecrop that can be fed.

The crop is very low in protein (7-9pc) and consideration will be required as to how best this forage should be balanced for various types of livestock.

Fermented wholecrop is easily transported and eliminates the cost of straw baling for the tillage farmer.

Price per tonne can be calculated depending on grain crop yield, green grain price, straw value and harvest costs.

High dry-matter alkaline wholecrop involves harvesting a fully mature grain crop.

Cracking or processing the grain must take place during the harvesting process. This forage will have a dry matter of over 80pc. A urea-based additive is added while the crop is being pitted.

As with fermented wholecrop, it is vitally important to compact the pit and cover it correctly.

The addition of the additives aids preservation, raises the pH and increases the protein content by 30pc.

Because of the dry matter, feed rates are much lower than with fermented wholecrop. This wholecrop is an ideal component of high-performance beef finishing rations.

Starch content will be 30-40pc, it will provide sufficient protein for finishing cattle and the use of straw can be eliminated. If purchasing this type of wholecrop, consideration must be given to higher dry matter, higher starch and higher protein content of the forage than that of fermented crops.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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