Silage quality drives all dairy production systems

Farmers must maximise silage quality, irrespective of the production systems they are following, according to AFBI’s (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s) Dr. Conrad Ferris.

He spoke at the organisation’s recent Dairy Innovation Day.

“All dairy production systems can be equally profitable, provided they are managed well,” he said.

“However, forage quality is a key driver of dairy profitability across the board.

“Every additional 1,000L of milk secured from forage equates to an extra €12,500 of profit per 100 cows.”

Ferris confirmed that all milk producers must strive to grow more grass on their farms.

There is also tremendous scope to improve grass utilisation rates.

Where silage quality is concerned, Ferris explained that each week’s delay in cutting will bring about a 3% fall-off in the D-value.

“Or, put another way, milk output levels from forage will fall by 1.3L,” he added.

“At AFBI we have carried out an extensive review of the analysis results generated courtesy of our commercial silage testing laboratory at Hillsborough. A total of 80,000 samples were assessed, going back over a number of years.

“The work confirms that silage dry matters have increased by 5%; crude protein figures have fallen a little bit. However, D-values have flat-lined.

This latter point is concerning and it is our intention to carry out research to find out why this is the case.

Ferris admitted that it would be a big temptation for farmers to go for bulk, when it came to making silage this year.

“This is a natural reaction to the fact that so many producers experienced great difficulty getting through last winter,” he said.

“But all the evidence points to the fact that farmers should never compromise on forage quality.”

Ferris confirmed that simple, flat-rate concentrate feeding systems can be effective.

“This is in cases where up to 14kg of concentrate are fed on a daily basis. But cows must be grouped accordingly.

“Most milk producers in Northern Ireland now operate on a feed-to-yield basis. Recent AFBI trial work has indicated that butterfat levels can be depressed when high levels of concentrate are fed, using this type of system.

“In order to find out if this is a general issue, and not one specific to the research farm at Hillsborough, we are initiating a trial that will involve the monitoring of 30 commercial dairy farms across Northern Ireland over the coming months.

Participating farms should have 40 cows calving between September of this year and next February.

“It is our intention to have the results of the trial published in the spring of 2020. The work will be funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs in tandem with Agrisearch.”