For the Future of Farming


Analysing your forage is key to ensuring that you make the most of supplies this winter.

Farmers could be making better use of silage this winter by more accurately assessing its quality and nutritional composition, according to ForFarmers ruminant product manger, Nick Berni.

With 2015 being a good year for both grass and cereal growth, and low milk prices looking set to continue well into next year, Mr Berni knows that many farmers will be looking to increase their reliance on forage over the winter months.

“When used correctly, forage, and specifically silage, can help to control costs whilst simultaneously maintaining herd performance. However, in order to achieve both of these objectives, it is vital that producers have a detailed understanding of the quality of their silage, so that they can make the best business decisions regarding winter feeding,” explained Mr Berni.   

“Whilst reducing feed usage and relying more heavily on forage to minimise feed costs this winter will be a key priority for many producers, it is important that this short term survival strategy isn’t achieved by sacrificing the long term health and performance of a herd.”

By better understanding the nutrients available in silage and how these will react in the rumen, farmers will be able to maximise their forage feeding rates when appropriate, whilst also identifying the right concentrate supplementation required to maintain cow health and performance.

Traditionally, when assessing nutritional composition and quality of silage, farmers in the UK have relied on fresh NIRS (near infra-red spectroscopy). However with fresh NIR analysis, the accuracy of the results is often questioned.

An alternative Dry NIR analysis was first developed in the Netherlands, and has been used by ForFarmers for more than 20 years.

“This method of analysis gives more consistent and accurate results contributing to the high milk from forage achieved by Dutch dairy farmers,” explained Mr Berni. “And this service, known as SilageManager, has now been introduced in the UK”.

With dry NIR analysis, silage samples are dried overnight to remove moisture before being finely ground, placed in a vial, and scanned at multiple points to ensure the whole sample is analysed. All of these factors improve the accuracy of the final result.

“Via SilageManager, we can examine the basic nutrients of the silage, such as dry matter, ME, protein and sugar content, as well as new Feed2Milk parameters such as, MELK value (more energy for the lactating cow), Rumination Index (RI) and Acidosis Index (AI),” continued Mr Berni. “We can also get a better understanding of a silage’s fermentation characteristics and available forage stocks”.

“This detailed analysis then provides farmers with very accurate information, which is vital if they are to formulate the most effective feeding plans, that will enable them to make best use of their silage supplies.”

“If we look at a couple of scenarios (see table), we quickly see how important it is to get good, accurate analysis of silage and how the additional information uncovered by SilageManager can help us to maximise forage use,” continued Mr Berni.

“The silage samples (A and B) in the table have very similar standard nutrients which would typically be the first factors farmers and nutritionists would consider. Although, they appear very similar in this analysis and it does not indicate the true milk yield potential of the silage and it’s effect rumen health. When we use SilageManager parameters we start to see greater differences in the silage, which could have a greater impact on cow health and performance over the winter.  

Standard analysis nutrients:

Grass silage

Sample A

Sample B

Dry Matter (%)






Crude Protein (%DM)






Sugar (%DM)



Lactic acid %DM)



SilageManager (Feed2Milk) nutrients:










“Silage A has a lower milk yield potential (MELK, 988) but greater rumen health potential with a high RI and low AI index. This means it could be fed alongside more fermentable feeds i.e. rolled wheat and challenging silage i.e. low dry matter maize ,” explained Mr Berni.

Silage B has a higher milk yield potential (MELK, 1017) but lower rumen health potential with low RI and high AI. This means it should be used along side  digestible fibre sources i.e. soya hulls and more fibrous forage i.e. wholecrop cereals .

The milk yield potential (MELK) difference between Samples A and B is 29 units/kg, over 10-12 kgs dry matter intake this could equate to up to 0.5-0.75 litres more milk. Using dry NIR technology can help to increase the forage utilisation or highlight why certain herds may be underperforming.  

“As you can see, the more information that a farmer has regarding their silage quality, the better the decisions they can make about its use during the winter feeding period,” concluded Mr Berni. “

This is especially true with a variable maize harvest in 2015, there is likely to be a greater number of low dry matter samples, which will present a challenge to rumen health. This problem could also be amplified by greater use of home grown cereals.