Use straw to replace grass silage for youngstock

Most beef and dairy farmers are only too aware of the difficulties associated with this year’s grass silage harvest.

Add in the overall prognosis for the maize silage crop, which is not great this year.

Sunshine is badly needed to get all crops back on track.

As I mentioned last week, it is inevitable that silage will be in short supply this coming winter on many farms. Buying silage may be an option for some, but will you be able to buy quality silage?

Care will also need to be taken when feeding recently saved bale silage. A man last week described bales made near him as Swiss-rolls with layers of grass and clay. This type of feeding could be lethal to animals.

All farms are different. However, some generalisations can be made. The animals, which will benefit most from high forage-based diets on a beef farm are the suckler cows with calves at foot.

The question is what are the obvious alternatives for young stock and finishing cattle?

Using quality products such as beet and brewers grains are obvious solutions, where they are available. However, the demand may exceed the supply of these products so what are the alternatives?

Wholecrop is another great option worth considering to replace silage, depending on the price.

Straw-based Diets

A proven production method for dairy replacements and young store cattle is to use a straw-based diet. As the cereal harvest is upon us, now is the time to secure your straw requirements. The best value straw is almost always bought direct from the field.

To maximise the intake of straw it is necessary to keep a constant supply in front of the animals. This will ensure correct rumen health.

The straw should be fed in conjunction with a blend balanced correctly for the animal’s protein and energy requirements.

It is important to limit the use of cereal grains and add plenty of digestible fibre in the form of sugar beet pulp, soya hulls or citrus pulp as digestible fibre. Digestible fibre breaks down in the animal’s digestive system and promotes rumen development and frame growth. It is also important to use high quality protein sources such as hipro soya bean meal or distillers, to encourage lean tissue growth — and include a mineral balanced for straw.

How much meal? A simple rule of thumb for the amount of blend to feed is to offer 0.5kg of blend per 50kg of live weight, plus 0.5kg of blend. For example, this means that a 250 Kg animal would receive 3kg of the balanced blend concentrate/head/day, plus free access to straw.

How much straw? This 250kg weanling will eat about 5kg of dry matter. The meal will cover half of this, so they will eat in the region of 3kg of straw. That means for a 150-day/five-month winter, each weanling will require about 450kg of straw, or in the region of three round bales.

Practical Solution

The whole system is very practical, animals are fed once or twice per day, depending on the amount of meal being offered, and there is very little feed wasted. It also means that you can stretch grass silage supplies and target the stock which will give the best return over feed costs.

Remember that it is not the case of just going out and buying any old ration for this purpose. Expert advice should be sought to get the best value and quality meal to balance straw, which will result in target gains being achieved by your stock.

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