Gerry Giggins: Maize silage and fodder beet mix has proven a winner for farmers

Maize silage has a lot of benefits for a livestock enterprise

Gerry Giggins

The early grazing that took place up until the start of March was abruptly halted by almost three weeks of cold and wet weather.

For those that were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that the winter was over and that they had escaped feeding forage, the roar of March changed that outlook.

Carry-over stocks of forage on most beef farms will be very small or non existent. Therefore, forage production planning will be an important job to conduct in the coming weeks.

Hopefully, last year's drought conditions were a once-off and we will experience no repeat this year, allowing for sufficient forage to be produced and to build up a buffer supply in pits.

A silver lining resulting from last summer's fodder scarcity was the mobilisation of a national programme to cover the shortfalls that occurred and redistribute excess forage.

The tillage sector deserves a special mention as they provided a huge dig out with whole-cropping cereals, planting short term leys and growing catch crops.

Many specialist cereal growers witnessed the benefits to be gained from growing such crops on contract for livestock farmers and they are now entering into negotiations to do the same this season.

Quite a sizeable area of cereal grains were harvested as wholecrop in 2018.

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When the drought was at its peak at the end of July it coincided with cereal crops approaching the optimum stage for harvesting as wholecrop.

Winter crops, when harvested, fell into the category of high dry matter wholecrop (50pc dry matter and above).

Spring crops, that weren't severely affected by drought, were harvested as fermented wholecrop (between 35pc to 45pc dry matter).

Many of these crops were bought as standing crops, with prices ranging from €800/ac to €1,200/ac. Across the pit samples that I have measured and analysed, there has been a wide range of results. Drought affected spring crops yielded just 7t DM/ha, while some excellent winter wheat crops produced up to 14t DM/ha.

While it wasn't a vintage year for grain quality across the country, the vast majority of wholecrops that I have analysed have been of good quality. Starch yields have ranged from 35pc on lighter crops to over 45pc on high grain yielding crops.

For livestock farmers entering into negotiations to have wholecrop contract grown this season, I would urge them to include clauses on yield and quality. Both of these factors can be easily measured or quantified and will ensure both parties are benefiting from the arrangement.

Maize crop

The most successful crop during a difficult 2018 was maize. Apart from storm damage to crops in some pockets of the country, maize silage had a bumper year.

Yields in excess of 48t of fresh maize per hectare (17t DM/ha) were not uncommon. Dry matter and starch readings for crops grown under plastic and harvested at the correct stage of maturity exceeded the 30pc: 30pc targets.

For those that bought a standing crop of maize on a visual basis, most weren't disappointed. It is so much easier to assess and predict yield and quality from standing in a crop of maize as opposed to attempting to do the same with a cereal crop.

There are tried and tested formulas to obtain a maize crops value based upon the dry matter and starch content.

Most contracts for crops harvested, delivered and pitted, equated back to a price of €2,300/ hectare to €2,600/ hectare.

Even at the higher price, with an average dry matter yield of 15t/ha, maize silage represented excellent value for money. Surprisingly, fodder beet did not suffer as adversely as predicted from the drought conditions. For many livestock farmers, beet is a very attractive feed.

The relative ease at which it can be purchased per load as required and the response from all categories of animals to its feeding make it the perfect fit.

This winter, a growing number of farmers have been supplying livestock farmers with a mix of maize silage and chopped beet.

This mix is ensiled and left to ferment for three weeks and provides an excellent balance between starch and sugars to enhance animal performance.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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