Soaring input costs coupled with huge uncertainty in the market place is leading many producers to maximise the amount of home produced feed for rearing and finishing stock.

The same philosophy also holds true for future proofing livestock enterprises and gearing towards ‘net-zero’.

High feed costs mean every kg fed to ruminants now needs to be justified and it is more important than ever to fully utilise inputs to ensure costs of production are maintained at a sensible and sustainable level for the future.

Sheep and cattle are ruminants and rely on the microbes in the rumen to function. Look after the microbes and they can help to reduce costs of production as has been shown on a recent excursion to Norway to view bull beef units where the cattle were fed low cereal diets.

On these farms, young bulls were finished at 15 months, hitting 380kg carcase weight on high forage-based feed rations. The bulls were mainly Charolais and Simmental-bred, although 30% were Aberdeen Angus cross.

The Angus on their owned achieved 320kg carcase weights at 14 months to avoid the large penalties (c.€1.30/kg) for carrying too much fat.

These finishing times and carcase weights are nothing out of the ordinary. What is impressive is the low volume of cereals and minimum bought-in feeds required to produce such carcases.

The diet was simply 4-6kg Maxammon-treated oats for the continental bulls and 3kg for the Angus, Beef Max Mineral with Rumitech and dry matter intake made up with good quality grass silage.

Harbro’s Maxammon distributors in Norway are Erlend and Guri Røhnebæk of Gjølstad Gård. Alongside supplying Maxammon and other inputs to farmers across Norway, Erlend and Guri finish 400 head of cattle next to the picturesque river Glomma, around an hour North East of Oslo. Their robust livestock system is built on a sustainable and home-grown ethos, where little is wasted and their attention to detail is outstanding.

Their simple system is a stark reminder finishing cattle is not just about shovelling as much cereal in front of them as possible. Performance is being driven by optimising rumen function and allowing ruminants to do what they do best – utilise forage and convert human inedible feed into human edible protein, in a cost effective, sustainable way with maximum inclusion of home-grown forages and cereals.

After all, ruminants are grazing animals, which would eat huge volumes of stemmy forages, in little quantities throughout the day when left to their own devices.

Why Maxammon?

The beauty of Maxammon is not just the increase in pH and protein the treatment itself brings, but the exciting part is what happens inside the rumen. By stabilising rumen pH and stimulating those all important rumen microbes, an environment is created where they can work extremely efficiently and actually generate more performance, more liveweight gain, from the rest of the diet, including the forage.

Recent trials have shown that feeding a proportion of Maxammon treated cereal as part of a well-balanced diet is improving total diet digestibility by around 5% and less starch is coming through in the dung. This means animals are getting more nutrients from their feed, resulting in improved performance.

Scientific trials are extremely important for guiding industry and proving concepts are correct, although the exciting part is seeing the results in practice, on commercial farms.

The system seen in Norway relied on good quality, home-grown grass silage and cereals. Feeding a relatively low level of Maxammon-treated oats alongside a high quality grass silage was returning results which many ad-lib cereal-based systems struggle to achieve.

It was noticeable how meticulous the farmers visited were and the attention to detail was striking. As an example, all silage was treated with an additive to reduce and in most cases, eliminate waste.

The system seen in Norway is achievable here in Scotland too and many are already doing parts of it. The latitude of Oslo is in line with Shetland, so making silage of good enough quality is achievable.

As the strive for net-zero continues, perhaps the focus should be more on being self-sufficient, by tailor making silage for the stage of production being targeted, maximising the utilisation of everything fed to ruminants by investing in grain treatments to stimulate more rumen function and having data to prove the system is working.

Is it time to go back to basics, to get to know what makes the rumen work and make it work for you?