This will be no ordinary feeding season

While this has affected forage quality and quantity on some farms, the continued exceptionally wet conditions throughout May have had the greatest impact on forage prospects on many farms this winter.

Although first-cut silage amounts may initially appear abundant on farms, the reality of extremely low dry matter (DM) combined with low ME values ​​necessitates feeding more of this silage to maintain dry matter intake (DMI) and energy. levels, many farmers reported that their clamps were traveling faster than expected.

It also appears that summer weather conditions have affected the amount of second, third and fourth cuts in drought-affected farms.

Grazing cows

In Northern Ireland, arable land has increased by 10% this year. Whole grains and corn accounted for a significant portion of this expansion, which may help solve some of the problems on those particular farms.

Extensive forage analysis by United Feeds confirms that first cut silage produced in Northern Ireland in 2022 averaged just 24% DM, with a significant number below 20% DM.

DM decreased by 6% compared to last year’s average indicators. The fact that this number is so low will have a major impact on the feeding strategies implemented on dairy farms during the 2022/23 feeding season.

First, wetter silage limits the dry matter intake available to cows. The rumen can only handle a certain physical volume of feed, and reduced feed intake will limit the animals’ ability to produce milk. But this is not a straight issue. And “throwing” more concentrates at the problem is not the answer in some cases and needs careful consideration and proper advice to maintain rumen health.


United Feeds technical team members are now receiving reports from dairy farmers with fall-calving cows that milk production levels are down to where they would normally expect this time of year, and that’s no surprise.

However, when feed analysis figures are worked out, the reduction in milk yield appears to be less than what dietary factors would indicate. As a result, it is believed that many cows are milked from their backs to maintain their milk yield at the level they are genetically programmed to achieve. This will come at a great cost: the resulting losses in body condition will have a serious impact on the productivity levels achieved during the following breeding season.

A minimum target of 12 kg feed DM will support healthy milk production. Herds that reached 12 kg last winter are struggling to reach 9-10 kg this winter. A drop in DM intake from 12 kg to 10 kg is equivalent to approximately 4 liters of milk (assuming energy levels (ME) remain the same).

Admittedly, second and third cut silages produced in Northern Ireland this year generally have DM values ​​close to the target of 30%. However, as noted, in some cases very dry summer weather combined with potentially low fertilizer rates will affect the yield of these cuts.

With these circumstances in mind, United Feeds’ advisory team encourages farmers to examine their silage stocks now to accurately assess whether they have enough to get them through the coming winter. At this stage, it is better to know the state of the game and make the necessary management decisions strategically. United Feeds can help with these calculations and corrective options.

The United Feeds team knew by the end of the summer that the first cut silos would cause major problems for dairy farms in the coming months. Their immediate response was to send a large number of silage samples and custom TMR samples to a unique laboratory in Canada called Fermentrics, which they have worked closely with for many years.

With the help of the Fermentrics diagnostic service, along with a wealth of in-house expertise, United Feeds has been able to gain unique insight into the true digestibility profile of individual feedstocks and, when combined, their impact on microbial populations in the rumen. with representative Northern Ireland silages.

At the heart of the Fermentrics system is the use of gas fermentation methods that measure the volume of various gases produced during the actual rumination process.

United Feeds’ nutrition team is keen to point out: “Every farmer’s silage will be different. We know this from the breadth of silo testing we do every year.

By working with :Fermentrics, we can provide bespoke nutritional solutions to individual herds. But it cannot be avoided that it will be difficult to feed the cows this winter.”

Another consistent theme identified behind the silage analysis is the high fiber levels in the first cuts this year. Therefore, it is critical to maximize fiber digestibility in diets offered to dairy cows this winter.

Amaferm® is a unique feed additive and the only one registered in the EU as a fiber digestibility enhancer for inclusion in dairy cow diets.

Fiber is a major component of ruminant diets. Forages typically contain 45% to 55% fiber, but many first cuts this year are >55%.

Normally only half of this is digestible and available for milk production, meaning that there is still great potential in the feed as ‘untapped’ energy.

Amaferm® is a natural feed additive that increases the digestibility of fiber by increasing the activity of microbial enzymes to accelerate the digestion of nutrients and fiber for the growth of rumen fungi.

It also stimulates fibrolytic bacteria that complete fiber digestion and lactate-utilizing bacteria that help reduce acidity in the rumen. Improved fiber digestion releases more energy from fiber, contributing to better feed efficiency, improved feed intake and increased energy levels, which in turn can support higher milk production, improved milk layers and reduced body condition losses.

Amaferm® is included as standard in an increasing number of Compound Feeds this winter and can be added to mixtures according to specific on-farm feed ratios.

The past year has seen many local dairy farmers confirm that cow performance is significantly affected by mycotoxins. These reports were further confirmed by surveys of silos made on farms across Northern Ireland.

It is generally accepted that the problem of mycotoxins is increasing. In part, this may be due to more accurate testing systems now available and farmers being more aware of the symptoms and effects mycotoxins can have on animal performance.

There is a clear link between mycotoxin contamination and our changing climate, which is causing stressful growing conditions for crops. Foraging and chaining techniques are also in question. It is also clear that high performance animals are more susceptible to the effects of mycotoxins.

They are natural substances produced by molds and fungi. They are invisible, tasteless and poisonous. To date, more than 500 different mycotoxins have been identified, and any animal feed can be contaminated. These include grazed grasses, canned forages (silage, whole crop, corn, hay), homemade and purchased feed.

Initially, mycotoxins were thought to be risky when feed was dry or had visible mold. While this is true, it is now known that these ingredients can be in any feed, any dry matter, with no visible mold and excellent clamp face control. Molds may be missing. However, the mycotoxins they release remain in place.

Reducing mycotoxin risk requires a multifaceted approach. First, farmers and contractors should try to limit silage and soil contamination from silos. Postharvest mycotoxins can result from poor consolidation and clamp management.

Farmers should remove any visible mold from the clamp and not feed any animals. Problem areas are on the sides and top of the clamp, but mycotoxins are certainly not confined to these areas.

Limiting the amount of time feed is exposed to oxygen reduces the chance of mycotoxin development. Remove the lids only at the feeding point, aim to move across the face as quickly as possible, and take half blocks as needed. Use a sharp cutting grip/block cutter to keep the face as clean and even as possible. Clean feed bins or passages daily of uneaten silage or TMR.

The United Feeds nutrition team is happy to discuss and assess mycotoxin risk with individual customers.

Management of low dry matter silos

If silage is made, it should be used to best effect. United Feeds’ nutrition team has identified the top priorities farmers need to adopt to make the most of low dry matter silage this coming winter.

First, fresh feed should always be available and within reach of the cows. This will require a regular increase in feed. If silage or TMR is not stored or heated after feeding, it should be fed twice a day. Each cow should have enough forage space, and where this is limited, silage should be increased during the day. Remember that it takes a long time for cows to eat the extra volume of feed required.

Analyzing each forage available to you is the first step in your winter feeding program. Your United Feeds consultant can help you evaluate diets and advise on targeting your feeds to the most appropriate stage of lactation. For silage <20% DM, if possible, mix with higher DM forages to promote intake. If possible, preference should be given to fresh calving cows for higher DM silages and dry cows where body volume is naturally lower.

A dry cow’s rumen should be kept full to support healthy feed intake after calving, as well as meet energy and protein requirements. Your local consultant can check that the dietary requirements of dry cows are being met, as this will affect their production potential after calving, not to mention the associated health issues.

The unfortunate part about prescribing the best feeds for the milking herd is that the worst feeds are likely to be offered to the young. The same issues mentioned above regarding low DM and high fiber content have the same effect on reducing DMI potential in young people. Growth rates will be hampered if energy shortages are not addressed.

The end result here will be heifers that are not big enough to breed at 13-15 months, delay their first calving date by more than 24 months, or heifers that are below target weight and/or height. All this leads to a significant decrease in overall farm efficiency, increased costs for dairy producers and poor production of heifers in the later lactation period.

Each farm is unique and will face different challenges this winter. The reality is that milk production potential has deteriorated on many farms, and silage quality drives crop production.

United Feeds has expertise backed by sound scientific evidence on how to best manage farm-specific scenarios. They have numerous supplements and tools at their disposal that can help them get the most out of their feeds this winter.

Your local United Feeds consultant can be found or contacted via or 028 9075 9000.

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