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Protecting grain and forage quality this winter

Forage and grain quality photo

With feed prices remaining at such high levels, it is more important than ever to ensure that the quality and nutritional value of your grains and forages are being optimised as the winter feeding season approaches. Although field conditions during harvest play a significant role in determining the quality of ingredients at feed out, producers should not discount the importance of good storage practices in avoiding any unwanted quality issues.

Management of grain during storage

Moisture, incorrect grain temperatures or insect damage can all provide the necessary conditions for fungi to thrive during grain storage. To help avoid these issues: For short-term storage, dry grain to less than 16% moisture content as soon as possible after harvest; for longer-term storage (six to 12 months), grain should be dried to less than 14% moisture.

Additional tips:

• Avoid moisture build-up and maintain sufficient aeration in grain stores and silos. (Regular maintenance of aeration systems is important to sustaining optimum performance.)

• Regularly monitor grain temperatures and humidity.

• Maintain effective insect control.

• Inspect stores and silos for leaks or build-up of moisture.

• Thoroughly clean and inspect stores and silos between different batches of grains and feedstuffs.

• Where practical, ingredients should be used in a “first in, first out” manner.

• Establish a detailed monitoring program with a clear set of standard operating procedures (SOPs).


Management of forage during storage

As mould requires oxygen to grow, attaining and maintaining an anaerobic environment is key to reducing its growth and subsequent mycotoxin risk. This can be achieved by:

• Regularly monitoring the clamp during winter to ensure an anaerobic environment is maintained throughout storage. Visible signs of heating or spoilage will indicate a potential issue with storage practices.

• Using a sharp feed-out tool to remove forage from the clamp.

• Moving across the feed face as quickly as possible (ideally, five days maximum in winter).

• Preparing the total mixed ration (TMR) using forage freshly removed from the clamp and feeding immediately. Avoid mixing in advance and leaving for a period between feed-out.

• Removing uneaten feed daily, prior to placing fresh feed in front of the livestock.

• Ensuring all mixing and feed areas are kept clean and free of mouldy feed residues.


Should spoiled feed be discarded?

Although livestock producers want to avoid wasting feed that is costly to produce, from a health and performance viewpoint, it can be even more costly to feed mouldy or poor-quality feeds to livestock.. Particularly in a forage clamp, any waste that has built up on the top or sides should be discarded. This will have poor nutritive value, may contain harmful toxins and its odour will have a negative influence on palatability and feed intakes.


What role does ingredient analysis play?

Analysis of forages is a fundamental step in ensuring animal diets can be formulated and balanced to meet their nutritional needs. Parameters such as dry matter, protein, energy and pH are core to a forage analysis. Some ruminant producers may also assess sugar levels, while a mineral analysis can highlight any specific areas that will need further supplementation.

As mycotoxins are invisible to the naked eye, only a specific analysis will identify if there is an issue with grains or forages. Ingredients can be tested in either a lab-based setting such as Alltech 37+, while rapid test systems like Alltech RAPIREAD can be used to quickly identify an issue on-farm. A key point to remember here is that even if feed has no visible signs of mould, that does not mean it is free from mycotoxins. Similarly, if mould is visible, it does not automatically mean mycotoxins are present. This is why a specific analysis is crucial to understanding and managing the challenge during the feeding season. As mycotoxin presence can be so variable in forage clamps, or grains stores and silos, routine testing is important. Just because one sample may be clean does not mean the ingredients you use next month will be.


What should producers be watching for in the animals?

Where factors such as overall animal performance, fertility and dry matter intake are compromised, consideration should be given to the quality of the ingredients that are being consumed on farm. If these problems cannot be directly attributed to another health issue, moulds and mycotoxins may be the culprit. Effective testing is key to identifying and addressing the problem.