Dairy farmers facing a potential forage shortfall and poorer silage this winter need to plan carefully to ensure they make the best use of feed stocks in the forth coming months

That was the warning from Richard Dobson, regional manager for Scotland with ED and F Man Liquid Products, who said that while many parts of the UK are reporting a good silage year in terms of quantity and quality, the picture is different in Scotland and Northern England.

“Many parts of the country are facing a winter with poorer silage stocks," said Mr Dobson.

“While most farms got first cuts clamped reasonably well, second and subsequent cuts are in short supply. This, combined with livestock having to be housed early, means stocks for the winter will be tight.

"At the same time quality is extremely variable. We are also seeing straw in short supply and significant hikes is price as a result.”

Mr Dobson says the objective must be to make sure maximum use is made of available stocks and be realistic about how much silage is in the clamp and which animals it should be fed to.

“If silage is going to be tight then it may be necessary to limit it to milking cows and use alternative feeds for dry cows and youngstock. The sooner decisions are taken about allocation of forage the easier it will be to plan for the whole winter to keep diets as consistent as possible.”

He suggests an early assessment of the situation should allow supplies of alternative feeds such as moist feeds and co-products to be secured, avoiding the need to shop around should forage stocks begin to run out.

He also advises getting silages analysed regularly as a way of ensuring that forages are correctly balanced.

“In general it will be better to feed a reduced quantity of silage, carefully balanced throughout the winter than to have to make drastic changes towards the end of the winter as stocks dwindle. This is particularly true of dairy cows where a consistent balanced diet is critical for effective rumen function and cost effective milk production.

However, Mr Dobson also stressed the importance of maintaining good rumen health and stable microbial populations when silage quality is poor.

“To extract the maximum value from silage, especially with poorer quality feeds, it is vital that the rumen microbes are supplied with the nutrients they require. Top of this list is sugar. Ideally dairy diets should contain 6-7% sugar with a significant proportion being six-carbon sugars like sucrose.

“Many silage analyses I have seen are down at 1-2% sugar suggesting that adding a quality sugar source based on molasses will be necessary to increase forage utilisation. At the same time, feeding additional energy via glycerine can help increase the supply of glucogenic energy and to support effective metabolism and milk production.

“Using one of ED and F Mans new high energy molasses glycerine liquid blends such as Glycomol or Glyco-Ale to dairy diets will help ensure the optimum use is made of available forage to support margins.

“Where silage stocks have to be diverted away from non-milking stock, molasses-based blends such as Regumix can be used to improve the performance of animals on diets based on straw or late baled silage.

“In the face of variable forage stocks, early planning will help reduce the impact of any shortfalls while careful balancing will help ensure animals can make the most of the forage on offer,” Mr Dobson concluded.