Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Opinion: We need a national silage inventory to tackle fodder crisis

There is uncertainty around fodder supplies
There is uncertainty around fodder supplies

Gerry Giggins

Forage quantity and quality remains the big issue again this month.

On quality, the main laboratories are reporting results that are very variable in dry matter, energy, protein and are displaying poor fermentation characteristics.

This reflects my own results testing silages from all over the country with portable NIR forage testing equipment.

First cut silages made in late April and in early May are of exceptional quality but quantity is obviously an issue.

Given the break in weather after this period, most late first cuts deteriorated in quality and on this late first cut ground there was little opportunity to take second cuts.

I was in Tyrone last week and saw the consequences of trying to take a second cut off late first cut ground.

It was heart-breaking to see the damage being caused to the field, but this was no doubt necessary in order to bolster depleted forage supplies.

The lack of forage stocks and lower feed quality will make for a difficult winter on some farms.

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These silages will also pose a big challenge surrounding mineral and vitamin supplementation to all categories of livestock.

Soil compaction is an obvious result of heavy machinery or a heavy stocking density in poor weather conditions.

Air is driven out of the soil to create anaerobic soil conditions under which iron and molybdenum become very soluble and are rapidly taken up by the grass plant.

Any grass silage made in these conditions can be very high in molybdenum, which locks up available copper and can reduce cow fertility.

These silages may also be very high in iron which not only locks out copper but also affects zinc and manganese availability, which are essential for hoof health and fertility.

High levels of iron in silage also creates a big demand for immune antioxidants such as selenium and vitamin E, which are required to make the iron 'safe'.

This means the animal's immune system is effectively compromised and unless boosted by targeted mineral supplementation these animals will be more susceptible to health issues and infections.

Soil contamination of silage, will obviously reduce palatability while aluminium levels will increase which can lock up available phosphorus that is essential for energy and growth particularly in the growing and finishing.

This year in particular, I would urge farmers to not only sample silage for its nutritional value but also for its mineral content.

When taking samples, it is important to not only test the good bales or good pit but to get a true representation of all forage stocks.

The usual method of taking a silage sample from the top of the bale isn't recommended, a bale should be fully opened and sample from all parts as there can be a huge discrepancy between the top and bottom of a wet bale.

Careful consultation is required with your mineral/vitamin supplier to ensure that that your forage is correctly balanced to offset any negatives present in the silage. Dry cow mineral supplementation needs particular attention to ensure calf health and the cow's future fertility isn't compromised.

In a normal year, silage shortfalls could be somewhat offset using straw, hay, maize silage or wholecrop cereals. Needless to say, the available stocks of these alternatives are now very depleted around the country.

This calls for some very creative thinking to get those in difficulty through until what we all hope will be an early spring.

The gravity of the situation in marginal forage regions is hard to comprehend for those who have an abundant supply of forage.

Even at this early stage, I would call on the relevant bodies to look at the establishment of a national silage inventory for surplus forage to be made available for farmers in the affected regions, at an appropriate cost.

Forage budgeting is widely encouraged and by determining whether there is a surplus or shortage on your farm, notification could be given to a centralised organising body.

If action is taken now a lot of unnecessary cost and panic purchasing of expensive imported forage could be avoided. This week I have witnessed Lucerne hay being imported from the continent, straw from England and Spain, straw pellets from France along with other 'fodder stretchers'.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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