Managing a variation in silage quality

Managing a variation in silage quality

Managing a variation in silage quality will be vital to good rumen health this winter

With reports that 2020 forages will vary in quality due to crop management and harvest weather conditions, paying close attention to rumen health could pay dividends in overall margins.

Results from the Trouw Silage Watch show, first-cut grass silages are averaging 35.5% DM, indicating very high levels of dry matter when compared to previous years. Specialist Nutrition offers advice on how dairy farmers can cope with the varying forage quality they may see this winter.

It is vital to analyse forage when formulating diets

It’s been a turbulent year for weather, with the highest rainfall on record in February, followed by a hot May, resulting in a huge variation in silage quality. The weather during the growing season has resulted in most first cuts analysing far higher in dry matter than anticipated at the time of harvest.

As a result, forage will need to be looked at closely when formulating diets, as there may be significant parameters which affect how it performs in the rumen. It’s vital to analyse forage on a regular basis to identify changes within key components, such as digestibility.

Looking at later harvested second, and many third cut silages, most have yielded well and contain a high percentage of mature grass which is higher in neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and lignin.

With rumen health in mind, farmers could consider feeding a percentage of this silage with the first cut to help balance forage digestibility and optimise rumen efficiency.

Specialist Nutrition sees a difference in feed performance depending on the silage produced, so it’s really important to pay attention to quality, analysing forage to ensure you know what you are feeding, as the extra margins farmers can make are considerable. Providing cows with a consistent diet throughout the winter is one of the most important measures dairy farmers should take.

When diets are consistent, the rumen microbiota is balanced and stable, and digestive upsets such as low pH (acidosis), are minimised. We encourage farmers if at all possible, to open the first and second or third cut together and feed them over a longer period of time.

As there can be a vast difference in fibre content between cuts, feeding a combination of cuts will assist rumen function by helping to maintain a more stable diet for both the cow and her rumen microbiota.

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Spot early signs of subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA)

There can be a significant negative effect on rumen health when cows are given highly digestible grass silage with a high acid load and low fibre index. We have seen this across many first cut forages, This combined with a high DM total mixed ration (TMR) could cause issues at feed out, as there is a higher risk of feed sorting.

It’s really important to pay close attention to cow behaviour, manure consistency, rumination and dry matter intake (DMI) to spot early signs of subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA).

Close attention should be paid to the cow environment to ensure optimum performance. This includes ensuring enough space, air, water, feed, light and rest.

A diet can be perfectly balanced on paper, but these aspects will still impact overall results on-farm.

Feed yeast to overcome the challenges of a varied ration

To assist cows in overcoming the challenges of a varied ration throughout the winter, many producers have seen huge benefits in using a rumen specific live yeast to help maximise rumen function by stabilising the rumen microbiota.

High-quality live yeast works to optimise rumen pH and increase fibre digestibility, generating benefits in both incredibly high-quality silage, and in those fibrous third cuts where more microbial activity is needed in the rumen to break down the fibre effectively.

Feeding a yeast is extremely effective on first cut silage which is low in fibre, so throughput through the rumen is extremely quick. In this instance, the yeast scavenges oxygen making the environment in the rumen safer, reducing the risk of acidosis.

With high fibre third cuts, adding yeast to the TMR diet has been proven to improve the breakdown of fibre fractions in the rumen which helps utilise more of the energy and protein available in the diet.

Live yeast helps to improve fibre degradation of all forages

Live yeast helps to improve fibre degradation of all forages and should be considered in most diets this winter. Farmers should work with their feed advisors to plan winter diets now so ration consistency is achieved.

Specialist Nutrition believes that focusing on how best to feed your forage now is far better than having potential digestive problems feeding first cut alone, then switching to a more mature forage which will create sluggish rumen throughput and production losses which will have further cost implications to your diets.

With significant variation expected across forage this winter, feeding a mixture of cuts, and using a rumen specific live yeast can help dairy farmers to maintain good rumen health across their herd, resulting in better overall performance.

Our range of Moist Feeds provides a highly nutritious and highly palatable animal feed.


  • Rich in protein, and offering an excellent source of energy & fibre for dairy and beef farms.
  • Helps manage costs, animal nutrition and herd performance while adding moisture to your ration.
  • Contains highly digestible fibre to lower the risk of acidosis.
  • Suitable for diets with a lower dry matter content
  • Ideal as inclusion for high yielding dairy feeds
  • An excellent supplement to cereals for finishing beef cattle

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