Managing Milk From Forage

Improving the quality of silage is always challenging as there are so many factors to manage, many of which are out of the producer’s control. Thompsons’ Mary-Jane Robinson explains how producers can aim to improve their milk from forage figures to achieve optimum performance levels.

With ideal harvesting conditions for this year’s first cuts, we have observed higher D-value silages with above average metabolizable energy values and intake potential, resulting in superior dry matter intakes from forage. From a practical aspect we walk up the clamp quicker than anticipated, so calculating forage stock is crucial. General trends for first cut silage over the last seven years, shows the continual improvement in average forage quality. This contributes to the continual improvement of herd performance - as long as the diet is balanced correctly - but it can also pose significant challenges such as increased acidosis, displacements, and issues with feet. 

Practical Options

With a lot of fresh cows entering the milking herd, first cuts are predominantly being used to minimise negative energy balance, help fertility and reduce concentrate feeding level. However, it is crucial that those diets are balanced accordingly to manage rumen health and the risk of acidosis, particularly on those herds pushing high starch-based concentrates. Ideally depending on silo pits and management, multiple cuts should be fed via the TMR with the aim of providing a consistent diet throughout the winter - without radical forage changes - especially as breeding of cows commences. However, the reality is that for many, utilising multiple cuts simultaneously is not a practical option.

First cut analysis has a sharp contrast to the second cuts at farm level, with many harvested late, quality is significantly poorer, with reduced intakes and lower performance. For producers with High D-value forage (70+ D Value) rations should be tailored to provide slowly fermentable carbohydrate in the form of maize. Total starch and sugars should be reduced as this combined with this type of silage can compound the acidosis problem. In addition high levels of digestible fibre in the form of soya hulls and sugar beet should be incorporated into the diet this will help optimize rumen function, by controlling rumen outflow rates ultimately slowing down the rate of passage allowing for increased nutrient uptake by the cow, allowing the cow to achieve maximum performance.

Research carried out by AFBI looking at supplementing high grass silage with starch verses fibre-based concentrate, showed milk yield could be maintained on a fibre-based concentrate, despite a reduction in silage dry matter intake. This fibre-based concept is also an option where forage saving is a necessity. Fibre based concentrate may reduce milk protein slightly, however combined fat and protein was higher on a fibre-based concentrate.

Forage First

In Aghadowey, the father and son team of Matt and Matthew Black manage a herd of 130 cows, consisting of Holstein crossed Swedish Reds, where they aim to maximise their milk from forage. Rolling herd figures are presently running at just under 8,000 litres with a 4.30 butterfat and 3.40 protein. With cows maintaining a partial graze (until recently) the focus at farm level is on optimising soil fertility and ensuring both grazing and silage quality can be maximised. With a large percentage of cows calving this side of Christmas, first cut silage will be predominately feed alongside some second cut (both cuts tested at plus 70 D value). The 30% dry matter of first cut, mixed alongside the wetter second cut 21%, will ensure that overall dry matter intakes from forage, can be managed and will ensure that the diet is kept consistent throughout the winter period. The HDF compound nut alongside a tailored blend complements the mix of silages ensuring performance is maximised but not at the expense of cow health.

For further information on how you can improve the performance of your herd this winter, please contact your local Thompsons’ representative. Alternatively, get in touch through our socials or give us a ring.


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Posted 02,11,20 by allison.

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