Stock up now for winter, livestock farmers advised

Scotland’s livestock producers are being advised to start planning now to avoid a difficult winter.

Kirsten Williams

Whether guided by a premonition or an assessment of the on-going weather forecast, SAC Consulting has issued advice to those with stock to feed through next winter to act now to start building feed supplies.

While the use of cumulative positive ground temperatures earlier in the year allowed the livestock team at SAC to correctly predict a likely three-week delay in animal turnout this year, which saw feed reserves depleted, record low temperatures throughout May have added to concerns.

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And this week Kirsten Williams who heads the team, outlined some of the options to help producers make sure they had enough feed to see them through.

“With challenging ground and weather conditions, there are currently few forage crops in the ground,” said Williams. “Once we approach the longest day (21 June), our growing days will start to become shorter, which will have an effect on their yield potential - an alternative option to consider might be sowing a quicker-growing crop such as Italian ryegrass, which can be cut for extra silage or grazed.”

She also warned producers to avoid the temptation to bulk up silage crops by delaying first cut, stating that the heading date of grass was largely determined by the variety and day length and usually occurred between mid-May and mid-June.

“The eight weeks prior to this heading is when the largest growth occurs and when fields tend to be closed up for silage,” said Williams. “When the grass heads, the digestibility of the crop declines, meaning it is essential not to delay cutting the grass.”

She admitted this would mean lower yield, but added it would be of greater quality, and growers were advised to apply the recommended rate of nitrogen to the aftermath swiftly after the crop had been harvested in order to maximise growth for the second cut or follow-up foggage grazing.

“Another option to increase feed supplies is to cut headlands of cereal fields pre-harvest as wholecrop and ensiling it.”

Working collaboratively with arable farmers also offered the possibility of accessing catch crops - such as stubble turnips sown after harvest as could investigating the possibility of away wintering stock on arable by-products.

“For the arable producer, these provide an income and a way of returning organic matter and nutrients back to the arable land. Catch crops can also be sown after silage has been cut, provided there is moisture in the ground.”

Additional feed, such as readily available stock feed potatoes could be purchased now and ensiled with grass silage to extend forage supplies in winter.

Beef consultant Lesley Wylie also advised producers who were worried about getting a sufficient forage for the winter to think about selling young stock now, while store prices were still relatively buoyant.

“With forage shortages being a UK-wide problem, it is likely that excess numbers of stock will be sold store in the autumn - and prices will respond accordingly.”

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