Ease your feed gap with homegrown forage

Tuesday 14.05.2024 , News

Autumn to spring has been cruel to livestock farmers, who have been subjected to months of wet, stormy weather. This has put pressure on silage stocks, forcing many to pay high prices for bought-in feed. With the weather finally improving, you can plan to ease your feed gap with homegrown forage.

Now is also a good time to start calculating when extra forage might be needed, and the types of forage crops to best fill your feed gap requirements, working backwards to plan establishment dates. There may also be forage crops outside your usual plan which could offer vital production value.

By taking these steps now, you can alleviate some of the feed gap-related pressures later in the season, advises Germinal expert Paul Morgan.

Reseeding with quality grass

The priority for sustainable livestock production remains the need to identify and reseed poor-performing leys to boost the quality and quantity of forage livestock. But for both production and environmental reasons, many farmers are increasing the diversity of their grass swards, first considering what is right for their farm and the outcomes they are seeking.

Mixing clover with grass seed

The nitrogen-fixing properties of red and white clover make them popular forage choices in light of high fertiliser prices, but their feed value and climate resilience shouldn’t be overlooked.

Clovers need warmer temperatures to thrive, meaning they are best sown in April to mid-August. About 30% clover is needed in the sward to fix 150 kg N/ha per year. It takes six to 12 months after drilling before fixing happens but once clover is well established, it can also transfer nitrogen to the surrounding crop.

Plan early to prevent forage crop gaps in 2023

Nutritionally, white clover is an excellent source of protein and energy, with a high mineral content and DM value. It’s very palatable and passes through the rumen quicker than grass, resulting in high intake potential.

Red clover is also a high-quality, cost-effective feed giving yields of 10-15 tonnes DM/ha. When ensiled, its crude protein content of 15-19% is three to five per cent above the average grass equivalent.

Plan early to prevent forage crop gaps in 2023

Clover’s growth cycle and resilience in hot, dry conditions mean it is growing strongly as grass growth wanes in mid-summer, particularly during drier periods.

This together with its high feed value can help reduce the strain on forage stocks to maintain milk production and liveweight gain.

Alternative forage crops

As well as increasing sward diversity with clovers and other species, growing a wider range of forage crops can also improve the resilience of livestock systems. Each crop type brings different benefits to complement high-quality grass varieties in productive grassland.

Brassica crops

Brassicas incorporate a wide range of main and catch crops, providing a fast-growing source of feed with good nutritional values. They are a cost-effective way to plug a forage feed gap in late summer or autumn, delivering a kilo of DM for just 4-6 pence with some ready to graze just two months after sowing.

Plan early to prevent forage crop gaps in 2023

Stubble turnips are a good example of this versatility and can be sown in May and grazed eight weeks later; providing DM yields of 5-7.5 tonnes/ha, with 10-13 ME and crude protein at 16-17%. They can top up later season grazing during the summer months.

Hybrid brassicas such as Swift or Redstart also grow rapidly and mature 100 days after sowing. Well managed, these crops should achieve 50% regrowth after the initial grazing.

Other popular brassica crops include Maris Kestrel kale, winter hardy and suitable for outwintering, and Triumph swedes, able to support high stocking rates on small areas of land for ewes and lambs.

For a quick catch crop to ease forage limitations, brassicas should be established between May and the end of August. Most main crops to be grazed over the autumn and winter period must be sown by the end of June.

Fill your feed gap with Germinal

Ask our grass and forage experts if you have a feed gap to fill.

William Fleming, Area Sales Manager (Scotland, Northeast England)

T: 07971640428

E: william.fleming@germinal.com

Paul Morgan, Area Sales Manager (Southern England, South Wales)

T: 07713 878069

E: paul.morgan@germinal.com

Harley Brown-Keech, Area Sales Manager (Central England, North Wales)

T: 07880469645

E: harley.brown-keech@germinal.com