Beef farmers should focus on making high quality perennial grass silage rather than growing alternative forages. That is the conclusion of an AgriSearch funded research project.
With increased interest by farmers in growing legumes on-farm in recent years due to the rising costs of purchased protein sources AgriSearch commissioned research into low input forages for beef production. This looked at the costs, dry matter yields and animal performance on a range of forages including lupins and triticale, vetch and barley, lupins and wheat, peas and oats.
Dry matter yields of the legume / cereal silages ranged from 6.6 tonnes DM/ha for vetch and barley to 8.9 tonnes for lupins and wheat. These yields are considerably lower than the yield of 14.4 tonnes DM/ha for a 2-cut silage system and 10.3 to 13 tonnes reported for wholecrop wheat.
In general the legume/cereal silages were of poor quality with low values of lactic acid, high ammonium concentration ad high pH. Animals offered legume / cereal wholecrop silage either as a sole silage or in combination with grass silage had 15% lower liveweight gain and carcass gain compared to animals offered perennial grass silage.
The total costs of producing legume / cereal wholecrop silage were 15% lower than for a 2-cut grass silage system. However, when costs were expressed per tonne utilisable DM yield, legume / cereal wholecrop silages had higher (52% higher) costs due to their low yields. Combined with poor animal performance this would produce a significantly lower gross margin.
In conclusion these results demonstrate that beef producers should place increased emphasis on making good quality grass silage rather than legume / cereal wholecrop silages in order to optimise performance and reduce feed costs in finishing beef systems.
For further information on this research project including a PDF of the Final Report click on the link below: