Dairy farmers facing silage shortages ahead of turnout should take steps to reduce feed waste and achieve more from available feed.

According to Jill Hunter, InTouch feeding specialist, there is a huge variance in forage availability across the country, with some producers feeling the pressure more than others. However, there are practical measures to reduce waste that can benefit all farms.

“Making small management changes can have a big impact on waste reduction and, ultimately, the bottom line,” said Miss Hunter.

She added that preliminary results from the Alltech Feed Waste Reduction Initiative on-farm pilot study highlighted loading inaccuracies of between 2 and 46%, providing a key opportunity for improvement.

“We also witnessed wastage when silage was moved from the clamp to the diet feeder. Regular spillages may seem insignificant but can really add up over time and are often not taken into consideration when forage budgeting.”

The adoption of technology can help improve ration presentation and reduce wastage, with one pilot study farm witnessing improvements in feed conversion efficiency (FCE) from 1.2 to 1.39 following the implementation of InTouch.

“This delivered a total financial benefit of 4.7pence per litre based on a total mixed ration (TMR) diet fed year-round,” said Miss Hunter.

This is because the InTouch system is based on a smart weighing device on a diet feeder that simply guides operators through a specifically calculated loading order, quantity of ingredients and processing time. The end result is a TMR which has consistent structure, mix and chop length.

Self-assessing rations is also a good way to understand the extent of feed waste, when more than 5% of feed is being left over, Miss Hunter said.

“Reviewing mix quality, cow cudding time, dung consistency and FCE performance are parameters that should be monitored as part of waste reduction strategy,” she said.

“This will help flag suboptimal rumen performance, which will lead to increased feed waste within the cow, reduced performance and feed stocks being eroded quicker than necessary.”

If a forage deficit looks likely in the weeks ahead of turnout, she advised assessing stocks and forage budgeting before considering alternative feed sources.

“Consult with your nutritionist to discuss forage budgets, or, alternatively, use the InTouch Forage Budgeting app to calculate the total silage available."

She warned farmers against feeding waste silage from the top or sides of the clamp as it is more susceptible to spoilage, which can reduce ration palatability and lead to mycotoxin issues, affecting rumen health and performance.

Five steps to self-assessing your ration

1. Feed refusals: At the end of the day, is there more than 5% of feed left over? This could signify loading accuracy or mix consistency issues.

2. Mix quality: Is fibre chopped to muzzle width, and is the mix light and fluffy?

3. Cow signals: Are your cattle lying down and cudding when they are not eating or drinking?

4. Dung: Is dung firm enough to form a thick dome pat, and is there a slow clap-like sound on defecation?

5. Performance: Are you happy with your FCE? Our recommended minimum target of 1.5 FCE target represents 1.5 litres of milk for every 1kg of dry matter of feed.