Analysis of silage samples from beef herds and sheep flocks in Scotland have been found to have disturbingly low levels of protein which could cause stock to slowly starve even though they might look full.
SAC Consulting, who conducted the analysis, has warned farmers in Scotland that a significant proportion of beef and sheep will be severely short of protein with major consequences on performance.
Senior Beef Specialist Basil Lowman said that so far press articles on this year’s silage quality have reported good results with both energy and protein levels being higher compared to last year.
"However these reports, while based on large numbers of samples, have mainly been collected from English dairy herds.
"In comparison our figures, for solely beef and sheep units show a different, worrying story. Energy levels in the silage are average to good but protein levels are disturbingly low," he said.
We are strongly advising farmers and crofters to get their silage analysed so they can supplement the feed if necessary.
Over a quarter of the silages analysed by SAC Consulting this year have insufficient protein for even a dry beef cow and nearly half have a protein content below 10%.
In a normal year silage will have a protein content of 13-14%, SAC Consulting stated.
According to SAC Consulting, the situation in England and Wales appears to be similar; Rumenco, who supply feed supplements, minerals and nutritional products for livestock, has found the silage they tested had an average protein level of just 11%.
Despite not receiving enough protein from the silage they are fed, animals often look healthy and full which means their true condition is sometimes not discovered until late on, SAC Consulting has stated.
With very low protein silages the animal’s rumen becomes completely blocked with partially digested food and the animal effectively starves to death, generally known as rumen compaction, it said.
However, SAC Consulting said that there is a simple indicator which will show farmers the animal is protein deficient; the consistency of their dung.
On a protein deficient diet the animals’ dung will be firm, dry and look like solid, mini hay bales.
"The problem really is with the bugs you find in the animals' rumen. It is these microscopic creatures which help breakdown the food, and they need sufficient protein to do so.
"Without it they will be less effective in breaking down the silage so it stays in the rumen for longer, this results in more partially digested feed blocking the rumen and stops them from taking in any more feed," he said.
The only way to determine low protein intakes is to take blood samples; hence the importance of getting silage analysed before it is used to feed livestock, it advises.