InTouch: Silage quality plays a major role in success or failure
Einstein once said, “energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can be only changed from one form to another.” This statement holds through when we talk about the nutrition of animals, which is a simple case of energy in and energy out. However, the amount and type of protein, fibre and minerals we use will determine whether this energy is partitioned towards milk, meat/condition or manure.
When we think of the animals’ diet, we tend to focus, mostly, on the concentrate of the diet — what is in it; what does it cost; is there maize meal there? But we sometimes forget about the forage proportion of the diet, even though for most of us it makes up 60–70%. This is even the case in fresh cow diets. Now is the time to rectify this and analyse our silage for both nutrients and minerals.
Based on calls through InTouch, one of the most significant factors influencing production and changes in milk yield, fat, protein and overall animal performance is forage changes. These can be through changing grass quality or quantity or changing of silage cuts in the diet.
Silage growing and conservation is very traditional in its methods, and so we continually struggle with silage quality. Merely focusing on it being palatable and it all being eaten is no longer acceptable in an age where fine margins determine profitability. This has been further compounded by higher stocking rates, which have created an inability to reseed, and the focus has been on more ‘bulk.’
Knowing the quality of your silage will allow you to determine your potential yield and the amount of type of concentrate required. The mineral analysis will let you see the maximum and minimum of each element, see if this particular silage is suitable for dry cows and avoid metabolic issues. It will also allow you to devise a plan for the antagonists, or those minerals that lock up the important elements in both your feeds and minerals used.
For those that have autumn calving cows, this month, focus on the dry matter intake of these animals. With loads of grass still available, these cows need more in conjunction with this. While silage is not an ideal feed from a quality point of view, it does have 20–30% dry matter, which is a long way from some grazed grass that can be just 11–12%. Almost like spring calving cows at this time of the year, if we can look after their intake, the rest will look after itself. If we are getting extended periods of wet weather and have maximised the concentrate in the parlour while trying to extend the rotation, we need to bring a silage into the diet.
In summary, test your silage for both nutrients and minerals, and also work out if you have enough of it for the winter. There are many people working in the industry that can help you interpret these results and develop a diet and mineral for the winter period.