High energy and nutrient content
High energy and nutrient content are crucial in order to gain the maximum from the basic ration. Only by producing forage which is rich in energy and nutrients will you be able to reduce the quantity of concentrates that have to be used. To achieve this, some natural principles and basic characteristics of different forage species must first be taken into account.
During their development, the composition of forage plants changes. With grass, for example, the stage of maturity has a big influence on the repartition of cell contents (protein, lipids, sugars and minerals) and cell walls (hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin), as the share of the latter increases steadily during growth.
As a result, the grass nutrient content, especially protein and minerals, declines whereas the crude fiber content rises. Moreover, an increasing percentage of crude fiber reduces the energy content as well as lowering the digestibility and feed intake by the animals.
Illustration: Change in the composition of grasses during growth.
Influence of crude fibre and energy content of grass covers of different ages on the milk performance
|Days of growth after optimal cutting time|
|Parameters of feed value|
|Crude fibre content (g/kg DM)||240||260||280||300|
|Energy content (Mj NEL/kg DM)||6,6||6,4||6,1||5,9|
|Green fodder intake and feeding success|
|Dry matter intake (relatively in %)||100||92||82||80|
|Energy intake (relatively in %)||100||89||79||71|
|Milk performance (relatively in %)||100||80||64||50|
Source: STEINHÖFEL, O. u. H. JEROCH: Grünfutter und Grünfutterkonservate. In: Ernährung landwirtschaftlicher Nutztiere. Hrsg.: Jeroch, H., W. Drochner, O. Simon et al., Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart, 2008.
It becomes more obvious now, why the right cutting time plays such an important role: not cutting at the right time can have a negative impact on dry matter intake and milk performance of the cows. Whilst the crude fiber increases, the energy content declines rapidly during the days after the ideal harvest date. The table below clearly illustrates the huge impact on milk performance, if the grass is cut too late. Losses of up to 35 % of the potential milk yield if the harvest is postponed by just eight days!
The role of plant population
Another factor influencing the energy and nutrient content is the crop composition. The percentage of grasses, legumes and herbs define its characteristics and each of the three components have a different impact upon forage quality.
- Dry matter yield
- Sugar content
- Protein content
- Flexible cutting time
- Flexible cutting time
While grasses are important for good yields and provide sugar for fermentation, legumes and herbs contribute towards a higher mineral content in the forage. These enhance not only the feed value but also its palatability.
Additionally, a high share of both legumes and herbs allows flexibility concerning the cutting time, as their crude fiber content doesn´t rise as quickly as those found in grasses. This reduces the risk of losing too much energy per hectare, should the weather delay cutting.
The high protein content of legumes also increases the overall protein content of the forage. An aspect of growing importance as current debates promote the production of more protein from grassland in order to reduce soya imports.
How to achieve?
Some aspects have already been mentioned above. But let´s go into more detail about what needs to be taken into account in order to achieve high energy and nutrient content in your forage.
Optimal composition of the plant population
The first step is to establish and maintain a crop. The composition should be adapted to the conditions and production target. Whether the forage is intended for dairy cows and harvested on intensively managed perennial grasslands, or for sheep and beef cattle harvested from extensive perennial grasslands, it is important to consider both perennial and non-perennial grasses. Dependent on the climate and soil composition, certain species of plant will have a more successful establishment than others.
Official recommendations state that a high proportion of perennial grass is important (up to 80 %). Performing species for meadows and pastures ensure high and reliable yields, tight grass stubbles and a good fermentation for silage making. Furthermore, legumes and herbs must not be forgotten, as they increase the crop protein and mineral content. Thus contributing to an enhanced forage quality.
Cut at the right time
In order to avoid energy losses, forage should be cut at a young maturity stage. The right timing is especially important for the first cut, as the process of lignification acts quickly at this stage of the season.
Recommendations differ according to the intended purpose (high-performance milk cows, leisure horses, etc.). The following principle may serve as a common guideline to produce energy-rich and well-digestible forage: cut as soon as ears or panicles emerge on the dominating plant species.
The field retention time should be as short as possible. This minimizes unavoidable respiration which is often a reason for sugar and dry matter losses. Especially important as declining sugar contents can jeopardize the whole silage making process as it increases the danger of an undesirable fermentation and unstable silage.
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