To contact one of our “Forage for Profit” team, call the Seed Office on 01769 576232
or Graham Ragg on 07798 583667 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home grown energy
The most important source of energy and protein to the livestock farmer is contained in home grown forages, whether they are grazed or stored as silage. The ‘True Value’ of the forage produced can only be assessed in terms of livestock output by the animals eating it. If we assume that the higher the energy, digestibility and protein content of forages fed, will lead to higher production output in all livestock, then increasing the quality of our forages will lead to increased profit.
The most important forage to the dairy, sheep and beef farming industry in the UK is grass, with it covering 65% of farmed land. This grassland can be split into two main categories, rough grazing and improved pasture. There are two main ways to improve the quality of the grass being eaten by our livestock; firstly, by reseeding and, secondly, how we manage the grass ley. Perennial ryegrass is our preferred grass species because of its high production and excellent feed quality. The aim when we reseed is to produce a sward with 100% population of PRG and clovers, in practice we never achieve an established ley with no weed grasses. These will start to come back into the grass ley over time so it is important to assess the level of PRG in a ley as over a 4-5 year period the level of weed grasses will increase and can be as much as 50% of the ley. However, this is greatly affected by management, fertiliser practice, soil pH and fertility.
The effects on production of increase in grass weeds are;
- Reduced crop quality
- Lower output DM/ha
- Reduced response to nitrogen (see charts below)
The costs involved in making silage are the same whether the grass ley is producing poor quality grass or a reseed with a high energy/D value grass. The livestock eating the grass have a limit on how much they can eat in a day so it is important the grass is highly digestible home grown energy containing good energy and protein levels.
If we look at the dairy cow in early lactation when her DM intake is critical, it is vitally important that the forage being fed is high D value (70+) and high ME (11+) to maximise her energy intake. Higher quality forages will help the cow achieve higher peak yields boosting income and help her to limit negative energy balance which, in turn, will help improve fertility and assist with cash flow by reducing the herds calving index, (more milk/cow/year).
If the herds calving index can be reduced then the number of replacement heifers required can also be reduced because of improved fertility, (average cost of rearing heifer £1000+).
There are other forages such as maize and cereal whole crops that can be grown to feed with grass silage to improve DM intakes, ration structure and energy density in winter.
These alternative forages are also useful when included in a buffer ration to be fed along side grazed grass to help ration structure (fibre), supply slower degradable energy sources (maize) and balance grasses variable DM.
For all farm businesses, producing enough forage for the year is critical and finding opportunities to take grass land out of production to reseed can be difficult, but the pay back in extra production is dramatic (up to extra 30%). This gives you the ability to cut earlier to improve the feed value and still achieve the volumes required.
When grazing, you will be able to increase stocking rates, leaving more land for silage production, more livestock and the option of taking less land (rented/summer keep), or growing alternative crops.