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Friday 19 January 2018

Dry April and early May has filled the pits with quality winter feed

A greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends
A greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends
Jesca Vickery from the Carbery Pedigree Herd hailing from Rosscarbery, Co Cork preparing her entry for competition at the Tullamore Show. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Gerry Giggins

The sight and sound of combines rolling should trigger beef farmers' attention to their forthcoming winter feed planning and budgeting.

Over the past three weeks all of my time has been occupied by carrying out such feed plans with my clients.

Silage stocks have been measured and tested with both quantity and quality in excellent shape.

The old adage of a 'wet and windy May fills the haggard with corn and hay' can be turned around for 2017 to refer to the dry April and early May filling silage pits with quality winter feed.

For most beef farmers the task of balancing grass silage to meet the animal's energy and protein requirements is always a challenge.

Depending on cutting date, fermentation and dry matter the amount of protein and energy supplementation required will vary. In most beef finishing scenarios, fulfilling the animal's energy requirements to meet maximum performance is the challenge.

Again, this year is no different, with most grass silages showing good levels of protein and moderately high levels of energy. However, finishing cattle will still require a secondary source of energy.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Irish grown cereals provide the highest quality and best value for money available to livestock farmers.

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I have recently noted a number of prominent agri-food companies and their customers are now looking to ensure their supply comes from farms that are using GM free feeds.

They need look no further than Irish grass, Irish grain and Irish oilseeds, beans and other protein sources.

For those tracking feed commodity prices, the rise over the past number of months has come as a welcome boost for the cereal sector however it will have an inevitable effect of rising winter feed costs.

There is close to a €20 increase in green grain price quotes over 2016 levels.

Livestock farmers that can source and store locally grown grain at this time of year can insulate themselves from price pressure that usually comes as the winter progresses.

The price of grain generally increases post-harvest due to transport costs to and from a feed mill, storage costs, processing costs and losses. The more often a tonne of grain is handled the more cost is added to it.

Grain preservation

Drying grain, acid treating and alkaline treatment are the three most commonly used methods of preserving green grain. Drying or aerating grain is the traditional method of preserving grain for medium to long term storage.

Grain can be stored for up to 12 months at between 14pc- 17pc moisture. The majority of the specialist grain drying equipment and aerated stores are found in the main grain growing regions.

This grain is then generally processed as required for feeding throughout the winter months. When stored at low moisture levels difficulty arises when rolling as the grains have a tendency to shatter into small particles thus leading to a digestive challenge for ruminant animals.

A significant amount of Irish grain at both merchant and farm level is stored with the use of organic acids.

Grain moistures of up to 25pc can be stored using this method, with application rates rising with moisture levels.

The grain can be treated and stored whole or rolled, with a shelf life of between 6-12 months, again moisture dependent. Whilst providing a simple and very effective storage method, the addition of more acid to ruminant animal's diets can pose further challenges in particular where wet, low pH silages are already being fed.

Alkaline grain treatment has grown steadily in popularity over the past number of years. Mature grains of between 14pc and 20pc moisture are best suited to this treatment method.

Using the opposite modus operadi to acid treatment, the grain pH is increased. Again, grain can be stored whole or rolled for up to 12 months and like acid treated grain does not require sophisticated drying equipment or aerated storage. High pH grain will obviously provide an excellent buffer in the rumen, allowing higher levels of grain to be fed or to offset acidic grass silage.

Given the time of writing, the option of crimping grain has passed for most cereal crops. Late sown spring barley and wheat may still be an option in some cases.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth


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