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Livestock producers are being advised to assess their forage stocks ahead of an expected severe shortage this winter.

• Make most of available fodder

• Take action sooner rather than later

• Look for alternatives feedstuffs

Livestock producers are being advised to assess their forage stocks ahead of an expected severe shortage this winter.

A wet spring followed by a mixed summer has left many experts forecasting a shortfall of forage stocks on many farms. Farmers should take steps now to secure any much-needed supplies, says Lisa Hambly of Mole Valley Farmers.

“There is a window of opportunity right now that farmers can take to address any forage shortages. Have those conversations and think about optimising what you are doing and do it now rather than wait until the winter when everyone else will be looking.”

Shortages are likely to follow the second poor growing year in many areas, says livestock nutritionist Kerensa Hawkey. “Stocks are tight anyway and people fed more from their reserves across the winter, so there’s just not the spare forage on farms.”

Challenging weather

The wet spring and an extremely dry start to the summer before the wet July took its toll. Maize, in many areas, had a difficult start, with experts predicting yields could be down by as much as 30% on some farms.

Both advisers stress the importance of farmers accurately measuring their clamps and forage stocks, the amount of stock that needs feeding and calculating a realistic view of how long forage will last.

Farmers can take various options to overcome shortages. But Dr Hawkey says: “This must take into account all stock from dry cows, milking cows, youngstock, any sheep or other animals that eat forage, too.”

Strategies include looking for opportunities by walking the fields. Ms Hambly says: “Warm soils and moisture provide good growing conditions, so it could provide an ideal opportunity to establish grass or a brassica. Be prepared to put a grass crop in after maize. You can just drive through with the seed – you don’t need to plough.”

Outwintering youngstock

Farmers could also consider outwintering to feed youngstock enough to maintain growth rates and reduce any metabolic diseases at calving. “Youngstock are the future of your herd, so you need to look after them.”

Feeding youngstock straw with a protein supplement, such as high protein molasses, instead of feeding grass silage. Dr Hawkey adds: “Protein is important for youngstock to grow frame.

“Farmers also need to feed enough physically effective fibre, ensuring an adequate forage to concentrate ratio. If you don’t feed enough forage, then the rumen won’t work properly and can lead to acidosis.”

Supplementary feed

Producers should also consider feeding forage extenders. Examples include blends, nuts and moist feeds.

Dr Hawkey says: “One kilo of concentrate can replace 3kgs of silage. If you add that up across a 200-cow herd over a month, you can save a lot of forage.”

Other options include optimising grass by overseeding and taking extra grass silage cuts this autumn if conditions allow.

A good quality silage additive can help minimise dry matter (DM) losses in the clamp, helping to retain quality. A grain treatment can also increase the protein content of wholecrop.

Dr Hawkey says: “Stable treated wholecrop could balance out poorer maize. It can also reduce the need for bought-in protein and is easy to handle on farm.”

She adds: “Caustic-treated wheat can also improve digestion by creating a higher pH and providing a high-energy feed for early lactation cows. However, both must be fed as part of a balanced diet.”