Ruminant-based livestock sectors will achieve the sustainability improvements they need to make, through improved forage utilisation, according to United Feeds sales manager, Clarence Calderwood.

Such an approach will help deliver a lower carbon footprint for the farming industry as a whole.

And, of equal significance, is his assertion that the producers involved, won’t have to look beyond their farm gates to secure many of the answers they are looking for.

“Forage utilisation is key,” Calderwood stressed.

“Whether it’s grazed grass or silage, the forages that farmers produce totally underpin the performance of their businesses as a whole.

“All other input suppliers, including the feed companies, are merely acting to complement the quantity and quality of the forages that their farmer-customers are producing.”

Improved forage utilisation

Calderwood said that the potential to improve performance from forage on farms is immense, but that "ignorance is not bliss".

“Farmers must know the true value of the forages available to them at any time, otherwise they cannot make accurate decisions on how to make best use of this fundamental resource.

“Having a silage clamp tested on a number of occasions throughout a winter feeding season is a case in point.

“Forage quality can vary significantly throughout a clamp, just as grass quality varies from field to field. And of course, there will always be differences in silage quality between the various cuts taken by a farmer throughout the year."

Monitoring silage and grass measuring

According to the United Feeds' representative, regular monitoring of silages will allow the farmer to regularly tweak his/her ratio formulation in ways that allow him to make best use of the concentrates that are fed.

He further explained:

“Such an approach truly represents a win-win scenario for the farmer; animal performance is maintained at the required level while best use is made of the concentrates brought on to the farm."

Calderwood also believes that the same approach must be taken by farmers while stock are at grass.

“Grass measuring throughout the grazing season allows the farmer to accurately budget the fresh forage that is available to best meet the needs of the stock consuming it," he said.

“Straightforward steps can also be taken to ensure that the grass available to stock is of optimal quality. Taking surplus paddocks out of a rotation, and cutting them for silage, is a case in point.

“And the same principle holds where silage-based diets are concerned. By feeding stock twice a day rather than once, the farmer is ensuring the feed available is fresher and significantly more palatable."

Pushing feed up to animals regularly throughout the day can also make a real difference alongside adequate feed space at the feed barrier, according to Calderwood.

Soil testing

Soil testing is another straightforward ‘application of science’ which the United Feeds’ sales manager believes that farmers across Northern Ireland must adapt as a matter of course.

He explained: “Trying to devise a fertiliser application plan without the information that can be delivered by an up-to-date soil test, makes no sense at all.

“The pH value is a critically important indicator of overall soil health. Currently the vast majority of grassland soil pH values in Northern Ireland are below the optima figure of 6.5.

“As a consequence, a significant proportion of the N [nitrogen], P [phosphorus] and K [potassium] applied by way of chemical and organic fertilisers are never accessed by crops.

“The same principle holds when it comes to plant roots accessing the nutrient stores already in the soil. If the pH is not correct, a very large proportion of these reserves remain locked away.”

Adding lime is the way to address acidic imbalances in soil. According to Calderwood, getting soil pH values to their optimal level is critically important.

"But keeping them there is equally important. The practice of adding small amounts of lime or other appropriate soil conditioners to fields on an annual basis should be considered, once the pH has been corrected," he stressed.

“Maintaining soil health at optimal levels is the key driver of all forage production. The more that a farm can produce and the higher its quality, the more sustainable the business will be into the future," he concluded.