Where grain storage facilities and access to harvest equipment are limited, wholecrop is an excellent option
How strange it is to have the All-Ireland championships completed before the start of the main grain harvest.
The men’s hurling and football finals always used to coincide with the end of the harvest season.
Most crops of winter barley and winter oats are now harvested, with a significant proportion of winter oilseed rape also harvested.
Reports on winter barley yields and quality have been varied. Low bushel weights in some varieties of barley have impacted on yield, but from my experience it shouldn’t have any significant impact upon feed quality.
Winter oats appear to be of excellent quality and will make a great contribution to any ruminant diet over the coming winter.
In most cases, the straw from these crops is baled and off the fields. Some cereal straw and the majority of rape straw was chopped for reincorporation.
Despite many farms having a carry-over of straw stocks from las year, the trade for straw has been buoyant, and quality excellent.
Straw provides the best fibre source and is the perfect complement to our grass silages, particularly those that are either low dry matter, low pH or low NDF.
There has been a lot of talk about cereal wholecrop this year. Barley, wheat, oats, triticale and rye are all suitable for making a cereal forage. Many farms have a cereal crop in the ground for the first time in recent years.
Rye has grown significantly in popularity over the past few years, particularly for non-specialist cereal growers.
Where grain storage facilities and access to harvest equipment are limited, wholecrop provides an excellent option.
I divide the options into three main categories; fermented, high dry matter and mature alkaline.
Fermented wholecrop is the most common storage method. The cereal crop is harvested when the grain is at the milky/cheesy stage and a green colour is still evident in the plant — when it has the ideal balance between sugar for fermentation and starch for energy
It is important that the crop is harvested while the sugars in the grain are at their optimum level to aid fermentation. I often see crops that are harvested much too early: they lose the opportunity to maximise starch yield, thus reducing the overall feed value.
A self-propelled harvester fitted with a direct cut header is the common method used.
Where the option of mowing and baling is used, a slightly less mature crop is advisable to minimise grain loss.
I have experienced significant bird damage to wholecrop bales; extra wrapping and netting is essential.
Additives may not be necessary to aid the fermentation, but will help to reduce feed losses once the pit is open. The finished product should have a dry matter of 30-40pc and starch levels 22-28pc, depending on the cereal type.
Most winter wheat and early sown spring barley crops are fast approaching or have now passed this stage but are still options for the next two forms of wholecrop.
High dry matter wholecrops are made from semi-mature cereal, 2-3 weeks prior to full maturity.
Grains will have advanced to a hard cheese stage with zero ‘milk’ present in the grain. Straw will be stiffening, with very little green visible in the plant, apart from tramlines, headlands etc.
The harvesting process requires specialist equipment to ‘crack’ or ‘mill’ the grain while the crop is being directly cut.
As there are insufficient sugars in the crop for fermentation, an additive is required. This will stabilise the pH, aiding fermentation and reducing losses at feedout time.
Forage dry matters will range from 55-65pc and starch will be 25-35pc.
To protect the wholecrop from bird attack, a layer of dry silage could be put over the surface.
For alkaline wholecrop (or alkalage), the grain crop has reached full maturity, 2-3 days before the crop is fit for combining. It is essential to have a direct cut header and grain processing equipment.
An appropriate additive is added to convert the wholecrop to an alkaline nature while also increasing the protein content.
As the crop has reached full maturity, starch levels will be maximised. The dry matter of the crop should be 80pc, with starches 30-40pc.
Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth