Alternative forages could significantly boost dairy diets

Including alternative forages, such as maize, triticale, rye and wholecrop wheat, will act to fully complement the very lush, multi-cut grass silages now increasingly made in Northern Ireland.

Fane Valley’s Matthew Armstrong addressed this matter in detail at the recent Forage Farm Walk, hosted by the co-op on the Lisburn farm of Michael Drayne.

He said: “An alternative forage is classified as a secondary forage and includes the likes of wholecrop wheat and maize silage. These are secondary to grass silages.

There is a rising interest in the number of people growing alternative forages at the present time.

“They add fibre to the forage mix that is made available to dairy cows, thereby improving overall ration performance.”

Alternative forages

According to Armstrong, wholecrop wheat is the most popular alternative forage grown in Northern Ireland.

He continued: “Adding an alternative forage will act to boost overall dry matter intakes. The additional starch available in forages like wholecrop wheat, provides a further nutritional boost.

“Wholecrop wheat, for example, can contribute up to 40% of the total forage in a dairy cow ration.

Farmers will see no real benefit of an alternative forage if inclusion rates are below 25%.”

The Fane Valley representative went on to point out that alternative forages should be fed to high yielding and fresh cows for the first 100 days of their lactation and/or until they are back in-calf again.

Wholecrop

Armstrong continued: “Wholecrop wheat can yield between 12t and 14t/ac. It is best grown as part of a grassland rotation, paving the way for a grass reseed.

Using a contractor to grow the crop is an option. But the costs associated with this approach may make the entire project prohibitive on a purely economic basis.

“Homegrown wholecrop wheat is costing up to £35/t fresh. If a contractor is brought in, this would add another £7/t to the overall growing costs.”

Armstrong said that maize crops can yield up to 15t/ac. But north of Ardee maize remains a marginal crop to grow.

Fodder beet

Where fodder beet is concerned, he confirmed that the crop can be grown successfully in Northern Ireland, adding:

But fodder beet will not increase forage intakes. It can, however, substitute for wheat as a concentrate source.

“The inclusion of alternative forages in dairy cow diets will serve to increase total dry matter intakes.

This can be justified in terms of increased yield and protein percentage. Alternatively, this approach can be used to reduce concentrate feeding levels while maintaining milk yields at existing levels.

“There is also very strong circumstantial evidence to show that the inclusion of alternative forages in dairy rations improves overall cow health and fertility.”