Farm Ireland

Sunday 24 March 2019

Low quality silage poses health and fertility issues, warn experts

Dairy farmers need to supplement cows with concentrates

Joe Patton talks about silage at Beef 2016 in Teagasc Grange, Dunsany. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Joe Patton talks about silage at Beef 2016 in Teagasc Grange, Dunsany. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Dairy farmers with low DMD silage face increased cow health and fertility problems this spring unless they are willing to feed higher levels of concentrates.

Veterinary consultant Tommy Heffernan said that significant numbers of farmers have struggled to maintain condition on cows this winter because of poor quality silage.

Mr Heffernan pointed out that the silage quality on some farms was as low as 60 to 65 DMD, which was a serious problem for milk suppliers who were unable to get cows out on grass this month.

"The energy requirements go up so high when cows are milking, that farmers are going to have to make up the difference in rations," Mr Heffernan said.

He said farmers typically fed cows 3-4kg of rations post-calving. However, he predicted that many milk suppliers with poorer quality silage will have to feed 6-7kg of ration this spring to prevent cows milking off their backs.

A survey of 2,000 silage samples carried by FBA Laboratories in Fermoy before Christmas found that the average DMD fell to 67, but that values were very mixed. A further study by Teagasc in Clonmel found that values ranged from a high of 72 DMD to a low of 62 DMD.

Mr Heffernan maintained that milk suppliers who are farming heavy ground and are unable to get cows out on early grass will be particularly hard hit by this year's poor quality silage.

He urged farmers who were facing extended housing periods this spring to get their silage analysed.

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Joe Patton of Teagasc said poor quality silage was a recurring problem on Irish farms and one that needed to be addressed.

He cautioned farmers against feeding too much concentrates too quickly post-calving and advised that a slow build up to 6-7kg was necessary. Getting cows out on grass for up to four hours a day would reduce the supplementation requirement, he added.

Feed sales

Mr Patton said many farmers in the north Leinster and south Ulster areas had moved calving back to the first week in February in an effort to shorten the interval between calving and getting cows out.

The impact of the poor weather and increased feeding requirements for cows has already been seen in compound feed sales.

Feed mills and co-ops report that feed sales this winter were 20pc up on 2016-17 levels. The hike in sales has continued through January, with deliveries running well ahead of last year.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers from Britain, Canada and New Zealand, as well as Ireland, have subscribed to a new online calf rearing workshop which Tommy Heffernan has launched.

Divided into 85 short video classes - which are a mix of classroom theory and practical work - the workshop covers everything from the treatment of scour and pneumonia, to the importance of colostrum, bedding and house ventilation. Practical lessons on tasks such as stomach tubing calves are also included. The course costs €69 and can be accessed on

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