Winter Feed Planning David McClelland, Technical Director, Norvite

Harvest is almost done, evenings are closing in and the nights are noticeably chillier. This all leads towards thoughts of winter and feed plans.

The starting point for winter rationing is maximising home-produced feeds. Estimating forage stocks and their quality underpins rationing, so silage sampling is fundamental to understanding the value of stored forage.

Forage samples are currently arriving at laboratories at pace. To date, most of the reports relate to earlier cut grass from the south of the country and are dominated by dairy silages. This skews the values but one trend is already clear - weather conditions at cutting have varied dramatically which has significant influence on forage quality (remember our “summer” in May and June, which turned decidedly soggy in July). In this context, averages are quite meaningless and it reinforces the need for sampling to be carried out.  

Of course, on most farms forage is only a component of the diet and home grown grain will feature to some extent. Cereal prices have dropped significantly this season and feed barley is currently trading around £150 per tonne. This will surely encourage grain to feature more heavily in diets this winter, so understanding the quality and value of grain has significant consequences. The ALpHA grain treatment which Norvite introduced five years ago can help improve the value of cereals in two key ways.

Firstly, and most obviously, the treatment provides increased crude protein. Barley nitrogen levels over past two years have been lower than normally expected. However, this season the average crude protein has increased to 9.94%. This hides the fact that barley samples have ranged from a low of 8% up to a high of 11.7%. This range highlights the interesting point that the highest barley, BEFORE treatment, has a protein level equivalent to the low barley AFTER treatment! Hopefully this emphasises that protein varies widely and should be assessed and valued appropriately. This is of particular value as world commodity markets remain stubbornly high, reflected by the high price for soya which in turn sets the trade for the other proteins.

Norvite instigated a comprehensive programme of grain sampling to test before and after treatment, which supports farmers through the ALpHA process. In addition to crude protein, seeing an average uplift in crude protein of 3.7%, this service also analyses pH level. The benefit of a high pH (average 9) is increased buffering capacity which helps to promote stable and healthy rumen function. This is the second key feature of alkaline grain treatment and enables livestock to cope with higher rates of cereal than would normally be formulated.

With markets for cereals bearish whilst proteins remain bullish, the value of alkaline grain treatment is a genuine “win-win”. One factor to be aware of is that alkali treatments are urea based and therefore require supplemental sulphur. This can be achieved by using an appropriate mineral to ensure the correct ratio of N:S in the diet. Norvite staff routinely address mineral budgeting as part of the winter rationing programme. As the only multispecies mineral manufacturers in Scotland, supported by a team of six graduate nutritionists with a combined industry experience of 104 years, they can rightly claim to be “Specialists in Animal Nutrition”.

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