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Not Able To Make Hay/Silage?

18 October 2017

Some areas on the west coast have been so wet producers have been struggling to make silage or hay recently.  The obvious consequence is a severe shortage of forage to overwinter stock but, equally important, is the impact this has had on the performance of animals this summer.  With fields still “shut up” for conservation there have been no aftermaths for stock to graze this autumn.  As a result grass intakes for perhaps the last 2 months have been severely restricted, all of which will have had a direct impact on performance, be it growth rates, fertility or cow/ewe condition.

In this situation some points to consider would be –

  1. Sell all lambs/calves store. To maximise sale weights start creep feeding ASAP.
  2. Check cow/ewe condition now and if they are lean wean ASAP but ensure calves/lambs have been on creep feed for at least 3 weeks before weaning.
  3. PD all cows now and cull all barren animals ASAP before prices begin to fall with the autumn glut.
  4. Be particularly hard when drawing ewes to go to the tup this autumn. Only keep the fittest ewes.
  5. Investigate opportunities for away wintering which will usually be cheaper than buying feed into remote areas.
  6. Concentrates are much cheaper per unit of energy/protein to transport than roughage.
  7. Consider strip grazing unharvested silage ground rather than trying to make very poor quality silage in wet conditions. Use a back fence to minimise poaching.
  8. If required supplement the standing grass with purchased concentrate.
  9. If ground conditions allow, consider mowing 2 or 3 swaths for the next few days, placing an electric fence in the middle of each swath to act as a feed barrier. This will minimise wastage, leave a uniform mown sward to regrow ready for the spring and reduce poaching.
  10. Consider a similar approach, similar to all grass wintering, for the ewes (see following article).

Most important of all review your future conservation policy.  Some questions to consider would be –

  • Would it be better cutting earlier and even moving towards a 2 cut system?
  • Would a long term away wintering for a portion or all stock be more resistant to extreme weather and more profitable?
  • Would undersown, cracked wholecrop provide a more reliable forage, and reduce the requirement of straw bedding?
  • Can breeding stock be outwintered eg all grass wintering, strip grazing forage crops eg kale, swedes, etc.

Basil Lowman,

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