What impact could poor-quality silage have on my suckler herd?

Silage is the number one feed on the majority of farms over the winter period. Farmers feeding silage need to ensure it is of good quality as this can negatively impact the health and the performance of a herd – whether it be fed to dairy or beef animals.

Over or underestimating feeding value due to a lack of test results can cost you a significant amount of money.

If a forage is not analysed, then farmers will either underestimate or overestimate the amount of meal and/or silage required by stock in order to secure optimal animal performance.

While conditions for silage harvesting were good during the summer of 2018, feeding poor-quality silage will not only lead to reduced performance, but – in some cases – lead to more problems.

Also Read: Have you tested your silage?

According to Teagasc, the bacteria in the rumen need sufficient protein so that they have enough nitrogen (N) to properly function and digest the silage being fed.

Work from Scotland, Teagasc says, showed that where low-protein silage was fed to suckler cows, there was rumen impaction due to poor fermentation and this led to some cows actually dying.

Protein is very important in animal diets. If insufficient protein is available, the cow is forced to mobilise lean tissue rather than fat, and if the deficiency is prolonged, it can result in poor calves born from thin, weaker cows, Teagasc highlighted.

In addition – according to Teagasc – colostrum quality may also suffer and it may cause long-term effects on fertility; this is something to be mindful of as we enter the calving period.

Also Read: Now that I’m feeding silage, how do I minimise waste?

Therefore, when it comes to protein levels, how much extra protein that needs to be fed will depend on how low the protein is and the type of animals it is being fed to.

Generally speaking, weanlings require a higher level of protein in their overall diet compared to older suckler cows.

The choice of protein supplement will be influenced by the different prices that are available. Small levels of soyabean meal – Teagasc says – can very quickly bring up the protein in a diet, whereas higher feeding levels are required with feeds such as beans, distillers, rape or maize gluten.

Teagasc also highlighted that most commercial rations on their own will not be high enough to bring up the protein where very low-protein silage is being fed.

Farmers are advised to speak with their local Teagasc advisors or nutritionist to ensure that your cattle are on the correct diet.