A revolution in forage analysis: Quick and easy on-farm testing has landed

Forage is generally the cheapest feed on-farm, but it’s also probably the most variable – feed value can differ markedly depending on growing conditions, the weather and how well the crop is ensiled.

Forage Quality Variation

And that variation in quality not only occurs from one year or clamp to the next, but also within the same clamp and even across a single clamp face.

Key forage quality parameters like Dry Matter (DM) can vary by as much as 10% from the top to the bottom of each clamp and by as much as 8% from side-to-side.

“In a typical herd averaging 30L/day, even a 2.5% change in silage Dry Matter from one mixer load to the next can cut daily yields by 2L/cow,” states Dr Derek McIlmoyle, AB Vista’s Technical Director for Britain and Ireland.

“So the potential impact on milk output and profitability throughout the year is huge.”

A Revolution in Silage Analysis

In the past, forage analysis has been too time-consuming, with samples having to be sent away by post for analysis. It meant that there was always a delay before the results were available.

“It was a major challenge for feed advisors and nutritionists trying to diagnose a problem on-farm – such as a reduction in milk output – or if the ration needs to be adjusted immediately,” Dr McIlmoyle explains.


“But that’s now changed thanks to the introduction of NIR4 Farm. It’s a new hand-held near-infrared (NIR) spectrometer capable of delivering real-time on-farm feed and forage analysis in under five minutes.”

NIR4 Farm makes it possible to analyse silage quality much more regularly, providing instant results that enable feed advisors, nutritionists and their farmer clients to benefit from accurate ration adjustments straight away.

“In many situations, it’s vital that the quality of the silage being fed can be quickly assessed, such as when trying to understand why milk yields have dropped or cows are suddenly showing signs of acidosis, for example.

“Now that’s possible, feed advisors and nutritionists can make any decision to adjust the ration right then and there, while still on-farm.

“Or if formulating new rations, can accurately analyse the silage and provide a ration to suit in a single farm visit, rather than via email or a second visit to the farm two or more days later.”

Video: NIR4 Farm in action

Benefits of NIR4 Farm hand-held NIR spectrometer:
  • Near-instant silage analysis results
  • Low cost, with results displayed in under five minutes
  • Detailed evaluation of silage quality variation even within a single clamp
  • Adapt clamp management and feeding to counter any variation

The result? More consistent nutrient supply to the cow and greater feed efficiency.

More Regular Forage Testing

“It’s not surprising that most farmers are unaware of how radically silage quality can change from one day to another as they move through the clamp, taking grass that came from various different fields,” continues Dr Derek McIlmoyle.

“Or the impact this can have on the ration, because data just wasn’t previously available.”

A 2013 study by Trouw Nutrition assessed feed value across the face of an open grass silage clamp in a traditional ‘W’ pattern of nine samples.

Both DM and NDF content varied by up to 10%, whilst energy density differed by as much as 1.6MJ ME/kg DM and crude protein by 3%.

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Portable NIR Advantage

But portability, speed and low analysis cost when using NIR4 Farm means feed advisors and nutritionists can now continue to test on farm and monitor silage quality throughout the year.

“So rations and feeding practices can be updated more often and more quickly, especially if there’s a problem and yields have dropped, and that saves both time and money.

“NIR4 Farm can also analyse grass quality in the field – either when grazing or before cutting for silage – as well as moist feeds, and it’s already having a big impact where it’s being used,” he said.

More information

To find out more about how NIR4 Farm can support your business, contact AB Vista nutritionist Martin McConnell on +353 (0)86 8109398 or Click here