Farmers facing the prospects of lower than anticipated grass silage yields are being advised to consider dried lucerne as an alternative forage this winter.

Trevor Rees, product manager with Dengie Crops Ltd, says early indications are that first cuts in many parts of the country are lighter than anticipated while the dry weather since early May is having a knock-on effect on aftermaths and second cuts.

“As soon as ears start to emerge in second cuts, the crops will not bulk up any more so the best option is to take a light cut at the usual time and then hope that a more substantial third cut can be taken,” he says

“It is, however, possible that some producers will end up with less grass silage than expected. While wholecrop and maize offer some alternatives, particularly given the increase in maize acreage this year, farmers should consider options to bolster forage stocks,” he added.

He suggested that where grass silage is in short supply it is probable diets will benefit from additional quality structural fibre to balance the forage. He pointed out that with reduced cereal plantings as a consequence of the wet autumn, good quality straw which might have been an option may be in short supply.

“Providing a cost-effective supply of digestible fibre will help ensure improved rumen function to get the most from the total diet. Rumiplus dried lucerne is high temperature dried and chopped to 2-4cm, ready for inclusion in mixed rations. Included at 2-4kg per day it will balance fibre levels, and at 10ME and 17-18% protein it will not significantly reducing nutrient density.

“The pH of dried lucerne at 6.5-7 makes it a natural rumen buffer and the structure of the fibre promotes an increase in rumination and saliva production. At 88% dry matter it will also help get mixed diets close to the optimum of around 45%DM.

“Dried lucerne has been used in dairy diets in the UK for several years and farmers have seen benefits in terms of better rumen health from including it in TMR diets.

“If grass silages are limited it may well be that it can provide an effective solution to the challenge of providing cost-effective diets,” Mr Rees concluded.