Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Focus on how to obtain the best from forage to counteract rising feed costs

The champion Limousin at the bull show and sale in Bandon Mart, Cork - Clontead Endevor - with owner Eustace Burke, Carrigaline; show judge Tim McCarthy, Ballydehob; and Donal Kelly, mart chairman
The champion Limousin at the bull show and sale in Bandon Mart, Cork - Clontead Endevor - with owner Eustace Burke, Carrigaline; show judge Tim McCarthy, Ballydehob; and Donal Kelly, mart chairman

Gerry Giggins

The current and the projected future high feed prices are making it very difficult to project profitability in winter finishing for the coming winter.

High feed costs are tightening margins so farmers need to focus on how to get the best out of the forage grown on their own land and also on any feed they may purchase.

The value of maize silage in beef finishing rations is well recognised. Maize is the simplest and most cost-effective crop grown on most livestock farms, particularly in arable areas of the country.


With the correct variety and site selection you can achieve high fresh weight and energy yields. Typically good maize silage will yield 25t/ha, with 30-33pc dry matter (DM), 11.0-11.5 MJ ME/kg DM, 28-30pc starch and 7-9pc crude protein.

This analysis helps to explain the benefit of maize silage when incorporated into a beef ration. The energy story is very important for the winter finisher as supplying energy to the finisher animal is the greatest direct cost.

High-quality maize silage can supply energy equivalent per tonne DM of 65pc of rolled cereals. At current cereal costs this puts a very high value on good-quality maize silage.

The debate on growing maize under plastic versus in the open (without plastic) still rages. Unfortunately, a lot of growers are making ill-informed decisions in this regard -- for example, growing without the aid of plastic in marginal areas and selecting a variety more suited for use with plastic.

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Variety choice will determine the harvest date and overall yield of the crop. When considering growing maize for selling on to other livestock farmers it's essential that it's grown under plastic to ensure that the maximum energy yield is obtained by the user and the maximum fresh tonnes are sold by the grower.

Currently, contracts are being agreed on a per tonne basis of €40-45/t ex-field. If the crop reaches 30pc starch and 30pc DM then with current alternative energy feed costs this is a fair price for all.


There are now greater options on the grain (energy) utilisation of the maize crop. Whole cob processing or ground ear maize (GEM) has been produced on many farms over recent years. The whole cob, or ears, are stripped from the plant and processed for ensiling with a stabilising additive.

With energy levels of 12.7MJ ME/kg DM, starch of 56pc and dry matter exceeding 55pc this product has a huge role in finishing diets. This product is ensiled conventionally and my experience over recent years has been very positive towards this high-energy concentrate/ forage.

There have been limited but very successful attempts at harvesting whole maize grain and storing it by crimping.

With imported dry maize meal reaching €270-290/t delivered on to farms this winter, the possibility of growing your own maize equivalent needs a closer look.

Crimped maize can be ensiled in a conventional clamp or in round bale form. It's very convenient for transporting anywhere in the country and I can see it becoming even more popular.

With rising fuel costs maize silage is a more price competitive alternative to grass silage. Grass silage is at best a very variable commodity. I have noted on a lot of beef farms in recent years a marked fall in silage energy and digestibility. When grass is harvested at a young and leafy stage digestibility and dry matter content is generally good, but in modern-day finishing diets it is very unreliable as the primary forage source.

In some situations the inclusion of higher levels of maize in the diet has often been associated with increased incidence of digestive upsets in ruminants. This should not be the case when the overall diet is correctly balanced especially with an effective fibre source such as cereal straw.

Gerry Giggins is a nutritionist with Richard Keenan and Co. Email:

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