Top tips for offsetting spiralling input costs by maximising the use of fibre

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Pasture to profit consultant, Piers Badnall and Lallemand technical sales support, Lientjie Colahanoutline some of the key areas which could help offset rising external costs.

1. Ways to graze grass efficiently​

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Even with the rising cost of fertilisers, grass remains the cheapest feed source available. By harnessing the full value of grass during turnout, production can be maintained while reducing reliance on purchased feeds.

Piers Badnall explains that the majority of dairy producers that are grazing efficiently, are seeing a positive profit margin and cows can achieve maintenance plus 20-25 litres from good quality grass alone.

“I’d recommend rotational grazing to maximise the potential of grass,” says Mr Badnall. “You will grow more grass of a higher quality with this type of system, typically achieving 56 percent more utilisable yield than traditional set-stocked systems.

“It’s important to monitor grass growth, demand and average cover, to ensure accuracy so the cows are turned onto quality grazing. Using a plate meter will help ensure this,” he explains.

It is also key to remember that grass quality fluctuates throughout the grazing season, which can impact grass digestibility and rumen stability. If not managed this will have a knock-on effect on cow performance and productivity.

2. How to produce the best quality silage possible?​

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Making small changes to your silage production process can achieve incremental improvements in silage quality and palatability, which offer significant cost benefits.

“For example, feeding 1kg dry matter (DM) more silage with a metabolisable energy (ME) content of 11.8MJ/kg DM can replace around 1kg of fresh concentrates per day,” says Mrs Colahan. “While for every five percent increase in neutral detergent fibre digestibility (NDFd), a cow will increase their dry matter intake (DMI) by 630g per day, resulting in 0.9kg increase in fat corrected milk (FCM) per day1.”

Lientjie Colahan says this can be achieved by implementing the Opticut system.

“Opticut takes a planned approach to maximise the quality and quantity of grass silage throughout the growing season, to fit the feeding scenarios and forage balance required,” she explains.

The basic principles of the system include pre-cut testing, to ensure the crop is cut at the optimum time, correct management of the silage making process, and the use of a crop and condition specific inoculant to improve nutrient retention and reduce losses.

“Following the Opticut system throughout the season and regularly pre-cut testing means that high quality can be maintained through to fourth cut, with a potential to achieve an ME of 11.5MJ/kg DM. If you were following a conventional silaging system, you’d be looking more in the region of 9.5 MJ/kg DM ME for fourth cuts,” she says.

3. How to increase fibre digestion within the animal?​

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Fibre is a complex part of the ration and a key source of energy. However, to access this energy, Mrs Colahan explains that rumen microbes must be able to digest the hemicellulose and cellulose within fibre.

“While making high quality, highly digestible forages to feed will naturally support increased fibre digestibility, there are additional practical steps that can be taken to ensure you get the most out of the fibre available.

  • Ensure cows have enough feed barrier space – 1m per cow in the dry period and at least 75cm per cow in the fresh group
  • Feed at least twice a day while pushing up every 2 hours
  • Provide a cool and consistent ration that does not heat up
Mrs Colahan says rumen specific live yeasts also have an important role in maximising fibre digestion.

Levucell SC, a rumen specific live yeast will support the establishment of beneficial rumen microbes, shifting the rumen microbiome resulting in improved fibre digestion. Together with balancing the rumen pH which reduces the risk of acidosis, Levucell SC can help the animal get more out of the available fibre.”

4. Getting the most out of your manure​

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With the cost of nitrogen fertiliser tipping £1,000 per tonne, Mrs Colahan says all opportunities to get more from manure should be explored.

“Manures are a highly valuable source of nutrients that can reduce the amount of purchased fertiliser you need. They also help increase soil organic matter (OM) which helps improve soil health and structure, both of which contribute to better crop performance.

“Many of these benefits are linked to the fibre fraction within the slurry. So, to better utilise manures, the focus should be on breaking down the fibre at a molecular level to ensure the positive bacteria have a competitive advantage. If this happens, they will be able to use the sugars released by fibre breakdown, and the OM within the fibre is available to the soil and then the plant.”

According to Mrs Colahan, it is well worth considering slurry treatments to facilitate this process.

Slurry treatments such as SlurriN Pro contain specific enzymes, helping to breakdown the fibre in the slurry which increases the compostability of the slurry. The breakdown of fibre in slurry releases nutrients that are utilised by the microbes promoting a positive fermentation process which reduces losses from the slurry thereby increasing the nutrient value of the manure, and replacing a higher portion of purchased fertiliser.”






1 Oba M. and M. S. Allen. 1999. Evaluation of the Importance of the Digestibility of Neutral Detergent Fiber from Forage: Effects on Dry Matter Intake and Milk Yield of Dairy Cows. J Dairy Sci 82:589–596
 
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HSENI names new farm safety champions

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Written by William Kellett from Agriland

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The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) alongside the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP), has named new farm safety champions and commended the outstanding work on farm safety that has been carried out in the farming community in the last 20 years.

Two of these champions are Malcom Downey, retired principal inspector for the Agri/Food team in HSENI and Harry Sinclair, current chair of the Farm Safety Partnership and former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Improving farm safety is the key aim of HSENI’s and the FSP’s work and...
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