So when Welsh producer Anthony Gibbon got the sample results back from his first cut silage last year he knew he was going to have to do something special to keep his cows on an even keel. “We started feeding the first cut silage in late August / early September and we just couldn’t slow the cows’ guts down enough to utilise the silage properly – it was just going straight through them,” he says.
The silage tested at up to 12.2MJ/kg of metabolisable energy and up to 19.7% protein, but with a low neutral detergent fibre level of just 40.4%. Although Mr Gibbon would normally add chopped straw to the ration to balance it, that just didn’t seem to work. “I’d known about nutritionally improved straw (NIS) for a while, and I thought that I would give that a go instead. The cows’ dung firmed up very quickly and within two weeks milk yields and quality had started creeping up,”
I’m confident that we gained 2 litres comfortably, and the butterfat content went up from 4.05% to 4.2%, with protein at 3.4%.
It will be interesting to see how they cope with the spring grass – I’m hoping the NIS will slow the rumen down and help utilise more of the grass so we can save on concentrates. We have had issues with really bad bouts of acidosis – particularly in the high yielders at grass – and I want to avoid that if at all possible.
Poor rumen function and lameness are closely linked – and between six and eight weeks after the last bout of acidosis 20 cows went lame. “If there’s an issue with acidosis the number of lame cows definitely increases,” says Mr Gibbon. “If the rumen is healthy, the feet are healthy, and since feeding the NIS I’m definitely treating fewer lame cows. Their feet are harder, too – and nothing else has changed except the NIS.”
It’s easy to see if the diet is right by monitoring the way the cows are walking, as well as their dung consistency and interest in rock salt licks. “If they’re all at the rock salt it’s because they’re looking to rectify an issue with the rumen.”
Mr Gibbon makes his own silage with the help of a contractor – by running two machines he can make the most of any decent weather window. “We reseed about 11ha a year to improve silage consistency and I make a few bales for the dry cows from fields that haven’t had any slurry applied, just to reduce the risk of milk fever.”
He takes about 150ha of first cut in May, and grazes his cows rotationally using electric fences.
If the grass gets ahead of them I will pre-mow it or close a field up for silage – as a rule we take three cuts split between four clamps.
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