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Agribusiness News May 2024 – Inputs: Winter Forages

1 May 2024

Winter forage options – Making the most of on farm resources

It is May and hard to think about next winter.  However, needs must as silage season is already upon us; as making silage is a costly business, it is essential to focus on this process to maximise forage resources.

Making silage to suit the stock

When making silage, think about what animals you are making silage for, high quality silage for youngstock and in lamb ewes will save money on bought in concentrates, but will be too good for dry suckler cows and will need diluting with straw. There is also a fine balance between getting enough bulk of silage and optimising the quality, with weather also affecting the quality and quantity of the dry matter of silage produced.

Table 1: Cutting time for quality silage


Alternative conserved forages

For winter feeding, arable silage offers an alternative to grass, traditional barley or wholecrop wheat. There are various mix options for establishing arable silage, for example barley and peas, or these together with added vetch or oats.

While the advantage is a good yielding crop, the energy and protein yield however will depend on the ratio of the species in the mix and how well the crop grows.  The nutritional value is often similar to average quality grass silage (around 10-10.5MJ/kgDM energy and 100g/kgDM crude protein.

Alternatively, root crops can help reduce the need for as much ensiled forage and can help delay housing which in turn reduces forage and straw requirements. With less and later sown  grain this year exasperating the problem of poor national straw supplies, root crops may  be worth considering.

Table 2: Conserved Forages Pros and Cons

SilageQuality can be varied to suit specific livestock group requirements.Expensive to grow and make. Quality of grass variation between fields.
Ability to save on concentrate costs, if made well.
Arable silageA good alternative to moderate grass silage.Can be poorer quality than moderate silage depending on cutting date and ratio of species in the mix.
Can be undersown with grass.Need to plan ahead to establish in the spring.
Attracts vermin once ensiled.
Wholecrop barley Can be taken out of grain production if required and harvested early.Poor for protein.
Good energy feed.Need to plan for sowing in spring with option to wholecrop.
Can be undersown to establish a grass crop.Attracts vermin once ensiled.
Hay Can be a consistent feed.Poorer energy and protein than moderate silage.
No plastic wrap or pitting required.Difficult to make good hay, reliant on good grass crop and good weather for a prolonged period.
High dry matter.
Can be stored easily for several years.

Planning winter forage requirements

To avoid waste and to help plan your winter feeding requirements, it is advised to use a feed and forage calculator.  AHDB’s can be found here Feed and forage calculator | AHDB.

Having your forage analysed and getting your rations checked by a livestock nutritionist can also make the most of your on-farm forage resources.

Karen Stewart,


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