Record wet season affects winter fodder

Being an eternal optimist is a useful trait if you’re a farmer and following this year’s awful weather it now seems to be a prerequisite, writes Donald Dunbar.

Many of the general public have the perception that farming is an idyllic and financially rewarding way of life. For a few it may be, but for the vast majority it is hard graft for modest reward and that’s before you factor in Mother Nature.

This year she has truly put the boot in. After lulling us all into a false sense of security with the warmest March on record, it quickly went down hill in April and continued to go from bad to worse. Not that confirmation was needed, but the Met Office records for south east Scotland confirm what we all suspected, summer 2012 was the wettest since 1910.

For the livestock farmer the continual wet weather and lack of sunshine has reduced the nutrient quality of grass. This affects the performance of the grazing animal but also the forage that is conserved as hay or silage for winter feeding.

At SAC we offer clients a silage analysis service and current results show that many silages are lower in energy and protein content this year (see table, right). Whilst the silage may look and smell okay, animal performance during the winter will be adversely affected. Growing or finishing animals will not make the expected gains and animals on maintenance diets will lose condition.

Knowing the analysis of your silage allows targeted supplementation using home grown feeds such as barley and beans, or the purchase of a feed with the correct protein and energy levels to balance the shortcomings of the silage.

Doing a bit of forward planning on animal rations now will be time well spent and help ensure the legacy of 2012 does not does not continue into 2013.

Winter Feed Action Plan

z Get your silage analysed

z Add up your different animal groups and consider the daily gains you wish to achieve or body condition score to maintain.

z Estimate the quantity of feed you have available be it silage, straw, hay or barley.

z Identify the shortfalls – Identifying shortfalls now allow you to take early action to ensure animal performance is not compromised or your feed supplies run out before the spring.