Maximising the volume of milk produced from forage is currently a top priority for milk producers looking to reduce feed costs and boost margins.

It has put the focus squarely on optimising nutrient intakes to drive fibre fermentation in the rumen.

But, it has also highlighted the challenge of maintaining a steady, balanced supply of nutrients to the rumen when forage feed value can vary substantially from day-to-day.

On-farm NIR Analysis

For Dr. Ronald Annett, Ruminant Technical Manager and Nutritionist at McLarnon Feeds, Belfast, part of the solution has been the adoption of NIR4 Farm.

It’s a new portable NIR (Near Infrared) spectrometer from AB Vista that allows real-time analysis of forage samples.

NIR4 Farm is a robust hand-held unit that measures the key nutritional components of grass and silage in just five minutes. Results are displayed on a tablet as well as being available for export to formulation software, via an online portal.

Using NIR4 Farm has enabled silage and grass samples to be tested much more regularly than was practical in the past, providing Dr. Annett with immediate on-farm access to accurate forage analysis results.

“We deliver nutritional advice as part of our service, and the ability to test silages more regularly really makes our lives easier,” he explained.

“For example, in a scenario where a farmer is deciding which pit to open for his fresh cows, we scan the silage and can make a decision about the diet straight away.”

Measuring the feed value of grass

In addition, the unique ability of NIR4 Farm to measure grass quality on-farm has allowed Dr. Annett to regularly monitor feed value during the grazing season.

“Having the ability to produce this information in real time means we can advise clients immediately on, for example, which field to graze next.

“Plus we can pick up on changes in grass quality which might warrant a change in concentrate type or feeding level.

“In the current economic climate, these are all decisions which are vital for efficiency,” Dr. Annett added.

“It’s critical that our clients are able to get the absolute best out of all forages, as well as efficiently use other feeds they’ve grown or bought in.”

Benefits of NIR4 Farm hand-held NIR spectrometer:
  • Real-time grass and silage analysis.
  • Immediate access to data for on-farm decision-making.
  • Regularly monitor grazing quality as well as silage feed value.
  • Assess grass management changes or troubleshoot feeding issues.

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

NIR4 Farm in operation

The case study in the video highlights how great an impact NIR4 Farm is having.

With immediate access to data on any variation in grass or silage feed value, feed advisors and nutritionists can adjust rations straight away if needed.

“Those variations in forage quality can be substantial, even within a single silage clamp,” highlighted AB Vista nutritionist Martin McConnell.


“A 2.5% reduction in silage dry matter (DM), for example, will cut DM intake by around 1kg – worth as much as two litres/cow/day – and lower overall fermentation efficiency by upsetting the rumen microbes,” he explained.

“Silages therefore need to be analysed and rations re-formulated much more regularly than currently happens on many farms, and at least monthly. Fortunately, that’s now possible thanks to NIR4 Farm.”

Data generated last winter using NIR4 Farm showed that silage dry matter varied by up to 10% across even a single clamp face.

silage pit face

The introduction of NIR4 Farm has been instrumental in making this goal achievable.

And, feed advisors and nutritionists who’ve adopted the new technology are able to exert much finer control over the nutrition of their customers’ cows.

“Efficient fermentation of fibre in the rumen is the key to unlocking the full value from home-grown forage,” added McConnell.

“Rumen microbial activity has to be optimised, and NIR4 Farm makes that much easier to achieve,” he said.

For more information check out the video, call AB Vista office on +44 28 9447 3478 or AB Vista Nutritionist Martin McConnell on 086 8109398 where you can also book an NIR4 Farm demonstration.