Fodder Quality

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Stock Journal Technical Column, November 2022 

Author: Deb Scammell, Talking Livestock 

Being able to harvest and store high quality fodder has a significant benefit for livestock production throughout the rest of the year. Unfortunately, this season the weather conditions are playing havoc with hay making. 

Hay that has already been cut and has had successive rain events on it will likely have depleted feed quality. If this hay is able to be baled, it is likely to be much lower energy and protein. However, due to the widespread rain nationally, even low-quality fodder is going to be useful in a bale this season. To meet energy requirements of livestock throughout the year, additional energy dense supplements like grain or pellets may be required with the lower quality fodder particularly to meet requirements of pregnant or growing stock. 

If the fodder has had too much rain on it and hasn’t been able to dry out properly before its baled, there may be issues with moulds and mycotoxins in the hay. Mycotoxins can affect livestock production often affecting growth rates as well as fertility and immunity. If hay is badly affected and smells musty and has visible mould it may be worth getting a fodder test for mycotoxins. Alternatively, you can feed a mycotoxin binder in a loose lick or in the ration. Hay samples already tested this year have shown high levels of Mycotoxin’s; Aflatoxin and Zearalenone. Take extra caution when feeding mycotoxin affected fodder to high-risk animals such as young lambs or pregnant ewes. 

Late cut hay is likely to be higher in fibre or NDF (neutral detergent fibre) as it gets tall and rank over the growing season. This will often lower the quality of the hay for livestock production, but high NDF hay will also restrict the quantity of hay stock can consume in a day. Once the NDF level of hay gets up towards 60%, sheep or cattle can only consume around 2% of their bodyweight per day compared to 3.5% of bodyweight they would consume of a higher energy ration. 

Silage can be a viable option for harvesting high quality fodder for livestock production. Silage needs to be cut just prior to flowering when the plant still has very high digestibility. This will result in high energy and low fibre fodder being conserved. The benefit of silage is it can be baled very quickly at high moisture content so it’s easier to find a break in the weather in seasons like this. Silage is still an art though, ideally it will be sprayed with inoculant as it is being cut and baled (or put in a pit) and wrapped ensuring an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment. The inoculant will control the fermentation pattern of the silage ensuring high quality fodder is stored with lower risk of moulds or mycotoxins forming. 

Whatever quality of fodder you conserve getting a feed test will ensure you know exactly what nutritional value you have in the bale to feed to your stock.