Skip to content

Beware Of Low Protein Silage

21 November 2016
silage pit

silage pit

The rumen is the powerhouse of the cow producing the energy they need to survive.  It is home to vast numbers of living bacteria that work as the engine to drive this process.  All engines need fuel and in this case they need to be supplied with protein.  Without this the bacteria die and the rumen seizes up.  Huge amounts of dry food material build up in the rumen, the abdomen of the cow becomes enlarged and the dung is dry and firm.  This is known as rumen impaction.

Last winter/spring SAC Consulting Veterinary Services diagnosed rumen impaction as the cause of death in beef cows following post-mortem examinations at Ayr, Dumfries, Perth and St. Boswells.  More than one animal died in most cases.  Feeding low protein silage is the most common cause of rumen impaction.  Routine silage analyses for 2015 highlighted lower than average protein levels in many samples and the results so far for 2016 are worse.

We advise the following:

  • Get your silage analysed. Low protein levels (below 8% – 9%) that go undetected can cause ill thrift as well as rumen impaction.  Even if cows are too fit, diluting low protein silage with straw could spell disaster.
  • If your silage is confirmed as low protein, take advice from a nutritionist on how to best balance the diet.
  • Investigate any deaths. Rumen impaction can make staggers more of a problem.

Diets fed to sheep that are short of protein can reduce yields of colostrum/milk and increase problems with mastitis.   Ewes can be blood sampled around 4 weeks before lambing to check if enough protein is being supplied.

Heather Stevenson,

Sign up to the FAS newsletter

Receive updates on news, events and publications from Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service