Fantastic weather during peak harvest weeks meant most winter and spring crops were cut at record low moisture levels.
Fields and quality of both winter wheat and spring grain are said to be good, which is good news for ranchers planning to include a high proportion of native grains in their winter feed.
My longstanding belief in the benefits of feeding oats to cattle was further strengthened when I attended the Beef 2022 event in Grange in July.
The research showed that when it came to grass silage-based diets, there was no significant difference in intake or performance between animals fed a barley-based concentrate compared to animals fed an oat-based concentrate.
With the requirement for agriculture to become more self-sufficient and increase the amount of tillage, oats are a suitable crop and resultant forage for many livestock farms.
Oats are relatively easy to grow and are suited to the Irish climate, but do not require the same inputs as other cereals. They are generally less susceptible to fungal infections, but using growth regulators is important to prevent storage.
They do well as a cover crop in both grassland and tillage rotations and can be harvested as grain or whole plant forage.
Oats are an excellent slow-release source of starch, with an ideal level of digestible fiber and natural oils that provide additional energy.
Given the fewer inputs required to grow the crop, the grain has a lower carbon footprint – and in turn will reduce the carbon footprint of beef.
It is also important to increase the amount of protein crops grown and fed.
There is increasing interest in growing red clover as a fodder crop with an increased protein content. Red clover grows very well in Irish conditions and can produce high dry matter yields per hectare (up to 14tDM/ha) if the soil pH and nutrition are right.
Whilst significant savings can be made on artificial nitrogen fertilisers, it is important that application of P, K and lime is not neglected.
While care should be taken when grazing red clover turf, it can work well in a multiple cut (4-5 cut) silage program due to the higher risk of fullness.
However, silage is more difficult with red clover than with perennial ryegrass.
Red clover is a legume that fixes atmospheric nitrogen, so the N content in the plant is higher; the leaves contain less sugar than ryegrass leaves; and clover has a lower dry matter.
It’s important to mow red clover lawns at their driest and highest sugar content. A longer wilting time than grass crops is required – around 48 hours.
The first cut should be made in mid-May, with further cuts every 6-8 weeks. The yield per cut is lower than that of a grass plant, but a lighter harvest supports ensilability.
Red clover silage could be used as sole feed for rearing cattle or lactating cows, but straw supplementation is recommended.
Due to its relatively low energy level, it has limited suitability for fattening cattle. However, when combined with DMD-rich ryegrass, maize silage or whole grain crops, it can reduce protein requirements from concentrates.
As overall feed costs remain high, alternative options such as oat or red clover silage should be seriously considered.
Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/beef/beef-advice/gerry-giggins-cut-your-feed-bills-by-growing-your-own-oats-and-red-clover-41943944.html Gerry Giggins: Reduce your feed bills by growing your own oats and red clover