Advice for beef farmers: Maize silage excellent feed, but...

The Ploughing is over for another year, the evenings are getting darker, and the last grazing rotation is beginning on many farms.

Unfortunately, weather conditions have deteriorated, and efficient grazing is proving difficult in some areas.

As usual, the Ploughing exhibits had something for all.

The hot topic was low prices.

Technology featured again, as agriculture moves rapidly with the times.

On farms, attention turns to preparing for housing, and the winter feeding programme.

Many cattle are already housed. Advanced steers, heifers, and young bulls are indoors in most cases on meal for their final finish.

Grass at this stage of the year offers little to these stock for maintaining thrive up to finishing.

Maize silage

In the past week, I have been asked many times about maize silage as a winter feed option. Good quality maize silage is an excellent feed to enhance performance in beef and dairy diets.

This year has been a pretty good one for growing maize. Most crops sown under plastic are excellent, and will make very good feed. 

Crops sown in the open are a good bit behind, and will require several weeks more to ripen fully.

Some are considering purchasing maize silage for beef finishing this winter, because they are disappointed withthe quality of their grass silage.

The big question being asked is, “How much is maize silage worth?” The answer to that question depends on many different factors.

* Is it being sold by the acre or by the tonne?

* What is quality likely to be? (dry matter and starch percnetages, and watch that maize is not harvested before it is fit this year).

* What animals do you intend feeding it to?

* Have you got appropriate storage and handling facilities?

* How much do you need to buy?

* What will you balance it with?

In all cases, it is well worth seeking good advice before you do a deal to buy maize.

Buying too much or too little can prove costly.

Not balancing it properly will result in poor animal performance, and additional costs due to a later sale date for finishing animals.

Protein and minerals are important to get right when feeding maize, to get the best out of it. Many feeding maize don’t supply sufficient protein to encourage intakes.

With regard to minerals, supplying sufficient phosphorous is critical in maize silage diets. Get your diets balanced correctly, to avoid disappointing results.

Beef cattle perform excellently on maize silage if it is of good quality and balanced correctly. Maize is high in starch, which is the main driver along with sugars of weight gain in indoor beef feeding.

A question each year with maize is, when should it be harvested? This also depends on many factors.

* Current weather and the weather forecast.

* Growing conditions throughout the season (sowing date, under plastic or open, variety, cob ripeness, site soil type and aspect, presence of disease, was nitrogen applied at planting, is it brown/yellow or still all green, ground conditions, has it been hit by frost, etc.

The most important thing is that maize is harvested at a suitable stage of ripeness to optimise quality and performance.

Again, it is worth getting advice regarding the correct time to harvest.

Don’t just let the contractor in because he happens to be close by, and it would be handy to get the job done!

Harvesting immature maize will result in run-off of effluent from the pit, most of which is valuable starch.

In my opinion, the ideal dry matter for maize from both feeding and clamp management is between 28% and 32%. Any drier and it becomes difficult to manage at feed out.

Managing ensiled maize

Spoilage at feed-out can be a huge financial cost with maize silage. This is easily avoided with good management.

Maize is high in energy and if it is not consolidated and managed well in the pit, moulds and spoilage develop on the shoulders and feed face.

Bacteria and moulds will feed on the high energy material, potentially causing large waste and poor animal performance. The moulds on ensiled forages can be extremely detrimental to the bugs in the rumens of cattle.

With this in mind it is well worth considering an additive when harvesting maize this autumn. It is most important that any additive used prevents the secondary heating which causes moulds to multiply rapidly at feed out.

Not all additives on the market will prevent secondary heating in high dry matter forages, so choose carefully..


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