Crucial to test your silage for essential minerals and vitamins

I am sure you are all sick and tired of the weather we have been having this “summer”.

Unfortunately, for livestock farmers, the effects of this bad weather will be felt well into next year.

As has been well documented lately, fodder will most likely be in short supply over the coming winter.

Coupled with this is the undeniable fact that forage quality on many farms will be less than optimum to achieve the desired animal performance.

Many options have been explored by farmers in an effort to bridge the feed gap on their farm. Many have purchased fields of grain for wholecrop, while others have forward bought by-products, or beet.

Many farmers will test their silage for dry matter, protein, energy, pH etc this year, and will seek advice as to how best they can balance it for their stock.

It amazes me how many milk and beef producers still don’t test their silage to establish its nutrient value.

A more scientific approach needs to be taken on farms, to ensure better nutrition for stock, and to prevent unnecessary costs through possible over or under-feeding of particular nutrients.

A slight concern I have this year is that due to the poor growing season we have had, mineral uptake by ensiled grass may be very poor.

Most tillage farmers got excellent responses from the application of trace elements this year — so it is possible that the grass field next door may have suffered from similar deficiencies.

Testing for minerals in your silage is a good place to start, in order to establish deficiencies and begin the balancing process for particular animal groups.

Many farmers will cross reference these results with milk or blood analysis, and get minerals formulated to match.

Silage and grazed grass make up the predominant feed source on almost all Irish farms.

If we know what level of minerals and vitamins an animal requires, based on, breed, age, weight, sex and productivity etc, then we can formulate nutrient programmes to supply them with any elements deficient in the base forages.

Most farmers have a perception as to what particular mineral symptoms look like, and have tried many things in the quest for a solution.

It has been well established that particular areas of the country have particular mineral deficiencies. There are many old wives tales about minerals, but the science is there now to establish the real on-farm issues.

Minerals are classified into major elements and trace elements, depending upon their concentration in the animal, or the amount required in the diet.

Some essential mineral elements are of more nutritional importance than others.

The following are the essential elements nutritionally important in cattle.

Major elements: calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, chlorine, sulphur and manganese.

Trace elements: iron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, selenium, iodine, manganese and cobalt.

Vitamins: A, D2, D3, E, K, B1, B2, B6, B12 & C.

Each element has a specific function or multiple functions, and either an excess or deficiency of one or more elements will impair bodily functions such as digestion, immune response, thrive, etc.

Many of the elements listed may interact with other elements to perform important functions.

The interaction of minerals with each other is an important factor in animal nutrition, and an imbalance of mineral elements — as distinct from a simple deficiency — is important in the diagnosis of certain nutritional disorders of livestock.

Finishing Cattle

There is a perception out there that finishing cattle require no minerals, which is totally inaccurate. For instance, copper is a natural growth promoter, calcium and phosphorous make up the animal’s bone structure, and are essential for saliva production. Zinc prevents lameness in intensively fed animals, and Vitamin E helps an animal’s immune response.

With feed prices continuing to rise, and poorer quality forages conserved on many farms, one way that farmers might achieve better animal performance, fewer animal losses, and fewer vet calls, may be to hone in on mineral supplementation.

This may be of considerable use, in particular, during the dry period for both dairy and suckler units.

A silage mineral analysis will cost you in the region of €50 to €60, and may be the best money you will spend this year.

Feeding a general purpose mineral costing €600 might be a total waste of time if it doesn’t balance your forage sources.

Establishing the correct mineral premix for your stock is essential to optimise performance and minimise animal losses.

Now is a good time to begin planning for winter mineral supplementation, because autumn calving has commenced on many farms, and these cows require accurate mineral supplementation.


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