Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Wholecrop solutions to a winter fodder scarcity

Gerry Giggins

I have been writing for most of 2013 about how the wet weather has been impacting on forage stocks and forage quality. Paradoxically, in a large number of cases, I am now encountering situations where available forage supplies will not meet the winter requirements due to the recent shortage of rainfall.

Poor first-cut silage yields, lack of bulk in second cuts and the reduced availability of bulky by-products have resulted in a great risk of farmers experiencing forage shortage again, especially in areas with lighter soils.

Last week the fodder committee highlighted that two-thirds of farmers have a fodder deficit of 23pc. I can concur with this evaluation given my travels throughout the country. Burying your head in the sand now will result in problems again this winter.

Wholecrop cereals are a viable option to help avoid shortages, particularly for those close to grain-growing regions. However, as we saw during the spring forage crisis, the long-distance transport of fodder is a realistic option.

Either fermented or high dry matter milled wholecrop can be considered. Some spring barley crops have already gone beyond the stage for harvesting as a fermented wholecrop but all winter and spring wheat, plus spring oat crops, could still be an option.

Fermented wholecrop should be harvested at a dry matter content of 35-40pc, when the grain is at the 'soft cheese' or 'doughy' stage. The use of a recommended additive is essential to ensure proper fermentation and to reduce the risk of secondary fermentation at feed out.

High dry matter milled wholecrop is a flexible feed, with high inclusion rates as a fodder source possible once protein and minerals are correctly balanced. The cereal crop can be almost fully ripe at harvest, at a dry matter content of 65-80pc.

It is important that the grain is milled or cracked during harvesting. The use of an alkaline, urease enzyme-based additive will aid preservation while also increasing the protein content and pH of the feed.

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Proper ensiling, compaction and sealing are crucial regardless of what option for wholecropping is chosen. When harvesting a short chop length should be aimed for. The height the crop is cut at (stubble height) will have an effect on the overall quality of the feed. This year the aim will be to cut as low as possible to give the maximum yield.

If considering purchasing a standing crop of wholecrop then accurate yield and price estimations are essential. The best method of evaluating a standing crop is to firstly consider the crop's grain yield potential, add to this the projected price of grain off the combine and add the value of the straw as it would be prior to baling.

By removing the cost of combining but adding the wholecropping charge you then have the value of the crop at the ensiling stage. The figures laid out in Table 1 (above) are a typical example.

Depending on the stage of harvest and the choice of additive, preservation costs will vary. The high dry matter milled product will require less protein balancer. Without major transport costs, €133/t dry matter will give a much cheaper supply of forage than many other options.

While the recent spell of dry weather impacted negatively on grass growth, maize crops around the country are jumping out of the ground.

A greater number of tillage growers opted to set maize this spring, given the forage shortage difficulties.

This extra acreage, twinned with the fact that yields and quality are expected to be above normal levels, should provide opportunities to purchase maize at harvest time and provide a welcome boost to forage stocks.

When purchasing maize silage it is important that it is tested for dry matter content and starch and a price agreed upon these results.

Brewer's grains, distillers, bread and other selected by-products can generally become available at this time of year.

Supply is struggling to meet demand and waiting on feed that may not materialise is not a position those short of forage want to find themselves in.

In livestock categories, such as dry suckler cows, where energy intake demands aren't the highest, average quality hay and straw in particular can form the basis of the animal's diet. All categories of cereal straw and even oilseed rape straw will meet the animal's requirements.

Where straw is used at high levels, supplementing with a high energy source may be needed.

Gerry Giggins is an independent nutritionist. Email:

Irish Independent