The availability of various types of forage contributes to creating optimal rations. And producing various types of forage crops yourself means you can buy less from external sources. In addition to grass, you can decide to grow lucerne, legume mixtures, herb rich grassland, cereals or clover, for example. “The motto is: always combine bales that have a rich structure quality with bales with a poorer structure. And it’s also important to keep a close eye on the protein and sugar content,” says Sjon de Leeuw, management and strategy advisor at PPP Agro Advies.
Attention for producing and preserving forage
The nutritional value of lucerne and clover is not always evident and according to de Leeuw, highly depends on all the various steps in the production and preservation processes. If all the steps from mowing to preservation are done correctly, the crops are ideal for storing as bales. “But if you want to limit loss of leaf material with clover, you have to carefully weigh up whether to use the tedder or not in the time before baling,” says de Leeuw. “So, how can you dry the crop enough to bale it and how can you create a homogeneous bale? Clover is rich in protein. If clover is baled before it is properly dry – or is not evenly dry – there is a higher risk of heating and rotting during the preservation process. However, if the clover is over-dried by being tedded again, you will lose more leaf material than desirable. In that case, you have to accept losing the important protein content of the crop. The same advice applies to lucerne, with lucerne being even more sensitive than clover. If you want to ted the crop, do it immediately after mowing. In both cases, finding a responsible and optimal balance is key.”
Efficient use of forage
Careful handling of grass, clover or lucerne will help maintain a good stock of forage on your farm. “So that you can minimise the quantities you have to purchase elsewhere”, says de Leeuw. “But having a good stock of forage is not where it ends. The forage must contain an optimal net energy value for lactation. The next challenge for you as a dairy farmer is getting your herd to utilise the forage well. If it becomes less tasty and palatable, you will see that reflected immediately in a lower feed intake. The rate at which forage passes though the rumen and intestines should not be too high, because this leads to a too high feed intake and too low feed utilisation and conversion. How high the rumen passage rate can or may be largely depends on which forages are available and can be fed as rations.”