ANALYSING forage will aid the most efficient use of winter-feed stocks on Welsh farms as farmers face the winter with poor quality silage.

Beef and sheep specialist Rhidian Jones says an analysis costs as little as £20, but many farmers still don’t test their silage.

“Knowing what livestock are being fed is essential, dry matter is a very important factor because that is where the nutrition lies,” Mr Jones told farmers attending an open day at Bronyglyn Farm, a Farming Connect demonstration farm at Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire.

“Farmers must know what they have in terms of quality and quantity as they may need to plan for buying in additional feed.”

At Bronyglyn, beef and sheep producer Gareth Morgan feeds pit silage to his herd of 65 Limousincross suckler cows and their springborn calves. The crop, harvested in mid-July, has a dry matter (DM) of 29.5%, 9.8 ME and is 11% protein.

Both the protein and energy levels are lower than normal as the challenging summer resulted in a later harvest when peak quality had been lost – something that has been the case on most farms this year.

With daily intakes per head of 30kg, Mr Morgan knows his cows are getting 10kg of DM and around 100 megajoules (mj) of energy. As the cows are still producing between three and four litres of milk a day they need that additional energy.

Mr Morgan can use the silage analysis to his advantage by planning to reduce intakes when the calves are weaned.

“Inputs can be restricted when the cows are no longer feeding their calves,” advised Mr Jones, of the Scottish Agricultural College.

“There is an opportunity to split the cows into two groups according to condition and to restrict those that are in better condition to 7.5kg of drymatter a day, the equivalent of 21kg fresh weight. They will still get 75mj of energy.”

But if the feeding system doesn’t allow for all cows to eat at once the diet should not be restricted.

“The bigger cows will get bigger and the leaner cows leaner,” Mr Jones explained.

The maintenance requirement of a 600kg cows is 66mj of energy per day, and an additional 5mj of feed is required for every litre of milk produced.

An extra 15mj a day is needed in the last month of pregnancy.

“If you put silage in front of cows they will eat it and that’s not making the best use of feed. If a cow needs 7kg of dry matter she will probably eat twice that amount if you let her,”

said Mr Jones.

He advised using straw to dilute silage to keep cows eating for longer and therefore more satisfied.

“The last thing you want is unsettled cows. Straw is expensive for bedding, but not for feeding, it is good stuff to feed suckler cows.”

The calves at Bronyglyn will be weaned in January, at between nine and ten months old.

The farm’s big sale silage crop was analysed at 60% DM, 9.8MEand 12.7% protein. Mr Morgan will feed this to his sheep at housing.

Farming Connect is funded through the Rural Development Plan 2007-2013, which is financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.