Forage and feed waste – keep it under control

It is estimated that 5-30% of feed and forage purchased and produced on dairy farms will be lost annually. Those farmers who keep good records will have an idea of the amount of feed actually fed out at all times but, even then, actual feed loss is still occurring. Unless records are kept how do we even start to quantify this on farm and, worse still, how do we know what it is costing us? Manage forage and feed waste of cows to keep costs under controlLosses originate from four key areas:

1. Field losses
2. Dry feed losses
3. Bunker and trough losses
4. Clamp losses

Field loss has a strong correlation with good management practice and attention to detail during the harvesting process.

Dry feed loss is linked with the weather, mainly wind and rain. Outside heaps tend to become spoiled during wet weather. Windy conditions during the loading process can result in small particulate loss. The small particles of the diet are usually the most valuable. During windy weather it is a good idea to position feed wagons away from the prevailing wind.

A simplistic way to calculate feed losses is based on feed rate and feed cost. For example, a 2% feed loss on a herd averaging 32 litres at a feed rate 0.35 Kg/litre and a feed cost of £220 per ton would equate to a £18/cow/year. For a 100 cow herd that would equate to £1800/year.

I know this may seem quite a simplistic method but it does show the actual financial loss and how quickly it adds up over the year.

Attention to detail

Reducing losses in the bunker and trough is very much down to good practice and attention to detail. Soiling of feed by birds and other rodents will lead to waste. Exposure to extreme weather, especially rain, will also lead to waste but, worse still, poor intakes. Ensuring troughs are weather and vermin proof where possible will be advantageous. Where this cannot be achieved keeping troughs clean is essential if you are to keep fresh feed in front of the cows at all times.

Feed which heats up in the trough is not just unpalatable but also contains spoilage organisms than can affect the health of the cow. Good bunker management is not just all about hygiene, it is about pushing-up regularly during the day and providing the right feed to the right cows at the right place at the right time.

Storing moist and dry feeds and forages correctly is the key to minimising losses, as is hygiene. Always clamp and seal moist feeds if the batch of feed is going to last longer than two or three days.

Always store dry feeds under cover or in bins and try to rotate the stock to prevent feed in the back of the store going mouldy. Silage should be removed using shear grab, block cutter or facer so as to avoid allowing air into the face and causing losses.

Combat forage bacteria

Clamp losses can be significant. It is not unusual to see losses as high as 20% between cutting and feeding. However, it is not just the losses that are of concern but the deteriation in quality and the formation of spoilage butyric bacteria, pathogenic bacteria and mycotoxin producing yeasts and molds.

The magnitude of losses that occur during the harvesting and feeding process are listed below.

  • Harvesting 2-12%
  • In-Silo 5-18%
  • Effluent up to 8%
  • Feed out 1-25%

Based on the production costs of first cut silage, somewhere in the region of £141/t DM, and average DM losses of around 20%, this would equate to around £8,460 per 1000 tonnes ensiled.

There are a number of factors affecting the quality of silage produced but, interestingly, not all weather related, which means that we can do a lot to increase the likelihood of producing good forage.

  1. Fertiliser application – timing
  2. Cutting date
  3. Weather
  4. Soil contamination
  5. Stubble height
  6. Chop length in relation to dry matter
  7. Speed of material coming into the clamp
  8. Quality of sheeting
  9. Consolidation
  10. Poor sheeting technique
  11. Not enough gravel bags and tyres (if using tyres make sure all cows have a magnet)
  12. Not using a net when crows are a problem
  13. Not baiting against vermin

It is worth remembering that every kg of feed lost due to poor management is 1kg of feed that won’t be converted into milk.

Manage mycotoxins

Mycotoxins in forage can result in reduced dry matter intake, rumen motility, microbial growth and nutrient digestion and absorption and this is before the systemic effects on fertility, SCC, immune suppression and lameness.

Image result for silage mycotoxins

In addition, Mycotoxins can cause enteritis, haemorrhaging and liver damage. All these things can have a tremendous negative effect on health and performance but, with good management, are avoidable.

It is also worth noting that transition cows are more susceptible to the negative effects of mycotoxins. This is due to the fact that they are in negative energy and that, as a result, their immune system will be under pressure.

Producing quality, well-preserved forage, free from contamination will have a positive effect on profitability and therefore it is worth taking the time to plan the production and storage of forage.

While easy to blame the contractor, in the majority of cases achieving a good, stable well-managed silage pit is in the hands of the dairyman.

Meeting with your forage contractor to explain your objectives for the coming season is a step in the right direction. It will help you to determine if they are going to help you achieve your goals. If they are not in tune with your goals, find someone who is.

Martin Hope
Dairy Specialist

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