DAIRY farmers have been warned not to rely on average reports and infrequent silage testing but ensure they have routine silage analyses so they know exactly what’s in the clamp.

Philip Ingram, Cargill ruminant specialist, said that despite this year’s good grass growing season, making the most of the crop had not been straight-forward and had led to mixed silage quality.

He said for many, an early growing season and a good first cut of silage was followed by wet weather from August.

"Reports on silage quality across the country confirm that it’s a mixed bag when it comes to interpreting results with some local averages reporting low fibre but high lactic acid and others reporting the contrary.

"What is crucial though, is that farmers get their silage analysed regularly – every four to six weeks – so they know exactly what they’re feeding.

"We can deal with any forage on a farm if we know its quality and what’s in there. The forage can be carefully balanced to provide a ration that will enable the cows to perform to potential."

Dr Ingram warns farmers not to base decisions on one analysis early in the year or on a national 'rule of thumb'.

He said: "If quality is over-estimated then cows are not getting a balanced ration and are likely to under-perform in the short term and there can also be longer term consequences on fertility that might be picked up months down the line. Under-estimating the feed can lead to over-feeding, wasted feed and a reduced feed efficiency – this carries a price tag too."

"If the analysis shows up a wet or acidic silage then we would recommend adding a rumen buffer like Equaliser that will absorb the excess acid in the rumen and maintain a pH a close as possible to the optimum of 6.5. This nips any potential problems in the bud and helps to avoid a fall in performance resulting from the poorer silages.

"And it’s far more efficient than waiting until cows have under-performed and the problem is picked up from a fall in milk or butterfats, or a change in rumination patterns, or loose manure. By this stage the herd could well be suffering from acidosis and feed efficiency will have dropped. Adding a buffer at this stage will be necessary, but it could be another week before she is back on track."