Dairy: Make the most of the current opportunity to harvest quality silage
The spring of 2016 will be remembered as long, cold and wet. But what have we learned from it and what can we do to future proof ourselves against similar scenarios in years to come?
Cows spent much of this spring going in and out of sheds, yo-yoing between a silage diet and a grass diet with varying degrees of supplementation. A total of 44mm of rainfall was recorded in West Limerick on the weekend of April 10 resulting in cows having to be re-housed on most farms for a few days afterwards.
A few farmers I spoke with at the time mentioned how the drivers collecting the milk mentioned that milk supplies had nosedived in the space of a few days around this time.
Protein levels also took a hammering, dropping to close to 3pc on many farms.
But why did this happen? Is the difference between the quality of grazed grass and that of silage so great to cause this huge drop in performance?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question on many farms is yes.
Grazed grass generally has a feeding value in excess of 80pc DMD, good leafy silage around 75pc and strong first cut silage with a lot of stem will be around 65pc DMD.
A cow housed full time would milk approximately 4l less on the 65pc DMD silage than on the 75pc DMD silage, due to the combination of lower intakes and lower feeding value. Supplementing with 3kgs of extra concentrate would be required to compensate for this drop in silage quality. Therefore the key to avoiding a drop in production is to have sufficient quantities of high quality silage available to the dairy cow when milk is being produced off silage.