The trend of increasingly drier, hotter summers seems set to continue in the UK, and with it comes the increased risk of clamps overheating and spoiled silage. So, when faced with another spell of extremely hot weather in 2022, producer Gideon Lacey knew that he needed to take action to protect the quality of the season’s grass-silage crop.
He runs a 120-cow Guernsey herd, on an all-year-round calving system, at Bolter End Farm in High Wycombe. The herd average yield is 6,600 litres, at 5.00% butterfat and 3.40% protein, and the majority of the milk is sold through the unit’s farm shop and a commercial milk round. Excess milk is sold to Arla.
“We aim to maximise milk yield from forage, so every mouthful of grazed grass and silage really counts on our system,” says Gideon. “In previous years, dry summers led to silage spoilage, and reduced silage quality, and it wasn’t something I wanted to repeat in 2022. So we decided to use a silage inoculant, and this investment proved key to keeping our clamp cool and protecting forage quality.”
Gideon grows 20 hectares of forage maize each year, but grazed grass and silage form the cornerstone of the herd’s diet.
The milking herd’s high-yielders are housed at night during the grazing season and are buffer fed up to 14kg of maize, plus 0.5kg of straw, yeast and minerals. They’re housed full time in October, and the low yielders stay out until mid-November.
High yielders are fed a ration which provides maintenance plus 18 litres, comprising a 50:50 mix of grass and maize silage, Nutrimaize, brewers’ grains, Megalac, Lintec, minerals, and a little home-grown barley.
“Cows are then fed an 18% protein concentrate to yield through the parlour, with the lows starting off at around 3kg per head per day, but we gradually taper this down to just 500g,” says Gideon. “When we are down to those feeding rates, it’s just about giving them a little something to get them to come into the parlour. The highs will be receiving between 6kg and 8kg of concentrate per day, depending on milk yield.”
Gideon is conscious that running a system that takes just two cuts of grass silage each year, means that he needs to make sure that forage quality and yields are as high as possible. “And, once grass is cut and ensiled, we also need to make sure we maximise the value of this winter feed and minimise waste,” he continues. “In previous summers, when temperatures have hit above 30°C, our grass-silage clamp has overheated, and this impacted feed quality.
“Not only would some of the silage spoil in the clamp, but we found that when mixing warm silage with other feed components in the mixer wagon, the heat given off would spoil the rest of the ration. It wasn’t palatable and intakes fell.”
In 2022, when another hot, dry summer was predicted, he asked ForFarmers’ Richard Greasley for advice on preserving grass-silage quality during the warm summer months. “I recommended using a Pioneer 11A44 Rapid React silage inoculant, which is specifically formulated to reduce aerobic heating, and helps to keep grass-silage clamps cool,” he says.
“It was the first year we used the product and I was really impressed,” adds Gideon. “We had noticeably lower levels of silage spoilage and the clamp has stayed cool.
“Despite the hot weather, grass-silage quality was excellent and palatability was also consistently good. This was particularly useful when feeding it to cows that were showing signs of heat stress, which makes them less inclined to eat in the first place.”
Overall he has been pleased with the positive role that the additive has played on his farm, and he plans to continue using it in the future.
“We will use the same additive this season,” say Gideon. “Our summers are set to continue to be hot and dry, but using this inoculant gives us peace of mind that we can maintain silage quality despite any heat-related challenges. The additive offers a good return on investment, and I am pleased that we gave it a go in 2022.”