Forage shortage advice

10 Jul 2018

The importance of planning ahead

Our team are currently receiving an influx of calls from farmers seriously concerned about their grazing availability. With the long wet winter having depleted on-farm forage stocks and the extended dry spell reducing grass growth significantly, some farms are reporting first cuts of silage to be down by around 30% with growth rates not predicted to recover in the near future.

It is vital to understand the knock on effects that the shortage could bring about. If the grazing period for cattle is extended this will mean reduced availability of grazing for sheep. Although leaving the cattle out longer will mean a definite saving in bedding, it is absolutely critical that body condition score is not jeopardized as this will put further pressure on already depleted forage stocks.

The impact of the shortage will be felt not only in the short term but will also have longer lasting consequences with farms potentially having insufficient stocks for the winter months. The Harbro team are on hand to advise you of the best way to safeguard your stock in light of the current conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but these key recommendations should help in planning ahead:

Short-term advice

  • Weaning lambs early by creep feeding will get lambs away quicker resulting in less grass being used by the lamb, with the additional benefit of taking stress off the ewe.
  • For the suckler cow in the run up to calving, concentrates will meet the extra requirements and help to supplement forage.
  • For youngstock, pulling them off grazing and introducing concentrates will not only get the cattle away earlier but it will also heavily reduce the grass required to support the cattle whilst maintaining their growth.
  • Feedblocks provide supplementary energy and nutrients and are an effective means of bridging the energy gap when it is not manageable to feed compounds regularly.
  • For growing and finishing cattle, concentrates again will supplement forage deficiencies. You should have a ration plan in place for when these cattle are going to be marketed with diets tailored to meet their requirements at that time.
  • Ensure minerals are correctly balanced to compensate for any changes in the nutrition.

Staggers alert

When the weather breaks, rain fall and consequently rapid grass growth will heavily increase the risk of staggers. The uptake of magnesium via the grass will be greatly reduced whilst the requirements of the stock will be higher so it is essential that magnesium is introduced to the diet and this can be done by either using mineral buckets or compounds. For those farmers mature enough to remember it, this is a key note of warning we can take from the hot dry summer of 1976 when staggers was also a big issue that year.

Long-term advice, planning for winter

The ample amounts of forage already cut this year have been in perfect condition with a higher than normal DM content, so this will help to compensate the lack of quantity and should be taken into consideration when developing rations moving forward.  Harbro have key planning tools to help farmers assess the nutritional requirements of their livestock. Harbro’s Suckler Calculator measures variables such as number of cows and body condition along with raw material and grass and straw availability. It calculates the nutritional requirements of the suckler herd in order for stocks to be forecasted and purchased up front. In addition, a silage calculator measures the volume and nutritional value of the silage in the clamp.

The team at Harbro are trained to help you plan for the challenging situation ahead, giving best advice on what can be utilised on farm and making use of what is available on the market. One option currently being discussed is the best way to utilise straw this winter, with ammonia treated straw being an effective way to increase the pH and protein content of straw for feeding. Stocks of raw materials should also be assessed, and with supplies of draff much tighter this year, other sources should be reviewed early on. Options such as pot ale and molasses are available, with finance options currently on the market for farmers to purchase new tanks for storage.

In summary, there are many alternative solutions to help alleviate forage shortages, but forward planning and seeking professional advice is essential. When John Heywood recorded the proverb ‘make hay while the sun shines’ back in 1546, he perhaps should have also referred to the importance of rain!

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