Switching to ALKALAGE pays off for Billy...
In his role as a contractor spraying up to 10,000 acres around Oswestry, Billy Roberts gets to meet quite a few farmers. Meetings he always enjoys because the experience offers the opportunity to pick other peoples’ brains.
“I like talking to other farmers because I’m always learning new things and am particularly interested in how they feed any cattle with what they can grow on their own land.
“In fact, it was a discussion with a local dairy farmer that made me think alkalisation of home-grown cereals was something I should be trying at home; his cows and growing youngstock always looked great on it,” says Billy.
As well as earning a living as an agricultural contractor, Billy Roberts also manages his own spring calving suckler herd at Pentrenewydd, Bronygarth – running 25 pedigree Belgian Blue cows put to a Belgian Blue bull. He also finishes the calves he produces, trying to make the most of the 50 grass acres he has available, plus 50 acres of cereal ground.
“We also grow some cereals that we feed back to the stock. I’ve always been keen to maximise the nutritional value of what I can grow on my own farm and alkalisation certainly offers the opportunity to do just that,” he says.
In 2019, he decided to try alkalisation for himself; making the switch from simply harvesting ripe cereal grains – and then rolling his barley or wheat for storage and feeding to the growing cattle in the winter. The cattle also had access to grass silage or straw and a bought-in balancer concentrate.
“We now make Alkalage from a mature wheat or barley crop, combining it at about 15% moisture and mixing the whole harvested crop with Home n’ Dry pellets. This feed is then sheeted and stored in a clamp. It definitely saves us money because we are certainly buying in less protein and the cattle do really well on it,” Billy says.
Rob Smith from Home n’ Dry explains that the proven alkasystem nutritional approach allows farmers to mix home-grown cereal with high protein pellets – which are based on urea and only sustainably-sourced soya – to effectively produce their own concentrate feed.
“Essentially, the use of Home n’ Dry helps mixed farms make the most of home-grown cereals and reduce wastage. Compared with earlier harvesting methods and inputs, fully mature grain is higher in starch and energy, which allows farmers to maximise the nutritional value in their feed cereals and increase ruminant ration starch levels while minimising the risk of acidosis.
“The alkaline treatment of a whole mature cereal crop helps maintain rumen pH at the target of 6-6.5 when it is fed to ruminant livestock. This ensures the rumen microbes can operate at optimum efficiency to maximise the maximum nutritional value from home grown feeds and forages. Diet alkalisation also leads to reduced methane production from ruminant livestock.” he says.
Mr Smith explains that once in contact with moisture, the Home n’ Dry pellets quickly release ammonia into the crop. The resultant feed is alkaline, as well as having an increased protein content.
“By adding 40kg of Home n’ Dry per tonne of a fully mature cereal crop to make Alkalage, you can produce a very stable and digestible concentrate feed, as well as gain protein...
And there’s minimal wastage too because Alkalage keeps well in the clamp without fermentation losses. Whereas with ensiled wholecrop, you can easily lose 10-15% of your dry matter,” he says.
Then there’s the farm efficiency and sustainability arguments, he adds. “More protein produced from cereal crops grown on your own acres means reduced reliance on expensive bought in protein (cost savings of up to 8% can be demonstrated) – some of which travels many miles from various international sources that may not grow their crops sustainably. On the other hand, Home n’ Dry uses only sustainable soya,” says Mr Smith.
The Belgian Blue cows at Pentrenewydd calve in a six-week block between the middle of January and the end of February each year.
“The cattle are typically housed until mid-April and during the winter now receive a mix of grass silage, Alkalage and some bought in nuts. The calves are creep fed from four months of age and as they near weaning, I start to introduce some Alkalage to their diet,” says Billy.
He admits that he still has to buy in some complete feed for the breeding bulls he produces, but the heifers do well essentially on the Alkalage he makes, some home-grown cereal and a little bought in sugar beet pulp.
“Producing Alkalage off our own arable acres works well for us because it delivers great nutritional value and keeps so well.
“I have considered fermented wholecrop, but with relatively low stock numbers any we make would heat up and become unstable before we could use it. In any case, Alkalage is a higher value, more stable winter feed in my opinion and I have to say the cattle do look well on it and certainly perform,” Billy says.
Billy Roberts makes the most his own forage acres by making Alkalage to help finish the calves he produces from his herd of 25 Belgian Blue cows.
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