AgriSearch, in partnership with DARD, is co-funding a new research project to examine the role of higher protein forages and home grown protein sources within Northern Ireland dairy systems. 

In order to sustain milk production, dairy cows must have an adequate intake of dietary protein.  Concentrate protein supplements are expensive, and are subject to significant price volatility.  In addition, the long term supply of non-genetically modified protein into Europe cannot be guaranteed and the import of these ingredients has a negative effect on the carbon footprint of local dairy systems.

 

For these reasons there is increasing interest in the potential of locally grown ‘protein crops’ within dairy systems.  However, there is little evidence that these crops really offer potential to replace imported protein in the diets of dairy cows. 

 

Pictured on the AgriSearch stand at the RUAS Winter Fair were from left: Dr Alan McIlmoyle; David Johnston DARD/AgriSearch PHD Student; Wallace Lyons and son George, Ballybogey. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Pictured on the AgriSearch stand at the RUAS Winter Fair were from left: Dr Alan McIlmoyle; David Johnston DARD/AgriSearch PHD Student; Wallace Lyons and son George, Ballybogey. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

This first part of the project will establish and monitor the performance of mixed red clover/ryegrass swards and pure grass swards over two years to identify dry matter yields, dry matter losses at ensiling, sward persistency and ensilage characteristics.  Red clover based forages will be offered to lactating dairy cows and the subsequent impact on animal performance and nitrogen utilisation will be assessed. An assessment of the economics of systems involving red clover will be made.

 

 The second part of the project will examine the role of locally grown field beans in dairy cow diets. Locally grown bean crops will be sourced, and issues such as maximum inclusion level, potential to replace conventional imported protein sources (soya, rape meal), and optimum treatment strategies (crimping, heath treatment, milling), are likely to be examined.  Early results from a pilot study being carried out by PhD student David Johnston have shown that field beans can successfully replace approximately 60% of the imported protein in dairy cows’ diets.

 

 This project will demonstrate if it is possible for Northern Ireland dairy farmers to reduce their reliance on imported protein through the use of home grown crops and forages and whether by so doing they can reduce costs, improve food security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.