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Dairy farmer Alan Irwin of Redhouse Holsteins, Northern Ireland, runs one of the UK’s highest indexing herds and pins the ability of their cows to achieve their genetic potential on the environment and the nutrition they receive.

Alan, who farms with his son David, has 170 cows from some of the best foundation cow families, including Rud Zip, Cosmopolitan, Lila Z and Oman Mirror, along with homebred families Dee, Ada, Dot, Jem and Kim, competing with the best international cow families in Europe. 

They have average yields consistently at the top of the UK, producing over 1000kg of combined fat and protein per cow year after year. Their long-term aim is for every cow to reach 100 tonnes of milk through exceptional management and genetics.

Alan says nutrition is vital to a cow reaching her genetic gain, with 52 cows having surpassed the 100-ton milestone at Redhouse. 

They work with nutritionist Steve Swales from Cumbria to ensure their cows receive the best nutrition, with a consistent 16.5% protein TMR consisting of grass silage and meal fed to in-milk cows.

At peak yield producing 60+ litres, their cows are averaging intakes of 35 kg of dry matter. Grass silage makes up such a large portion of the diet ensuring it performs is paramount.

They have suffered from low pH silages in the past, having a negative knock-on regarding cow performance.

A silage that is too acidic can cause difficulties in the rumen, killing fibre-digesting bacteria and protozoa. This reduces intake and digestibility, with knock-on effects on cow condition, fertility and production.

Although the Irwin’s have always used a silage inoculant to help manage pH levels, 7-8 years ago, they decided to try different products to manage low pH issues.

Alan explains: “Our nutritionist recommended Optisile as it is the best inoculant he has seen working in terms of cow performance across the farms he visits. Before committing, we decided to run a trial looking at different inoculants and found that Optisile was the only one really working.”

Alan says their priority isn’t the primary fermentation in the clamp; it’s about managing secondary fermentation. 

“Keeping down secondary fermentation when the clamp is open is important to us. Before using Optisile, the pH was about 3.6, but now it’s up to 4.3.

“We don’t have an issue with secondary fermentation anymore, but we have to ensure the clamp isn’t opened before two months.”

The Irwin’s try to produce drier silage even if that means the grass is left waiting to be harvested. “No matter how long it takes us to get it, we will make a dry silage. Wet silage is not good for the cows. We prefer grass to be too dry than too wet, as we can always add water into the mixer wagon to produce the ideal dry matter of 38-42%, without having the acid load of wetter silage,” he says.

They are harvesting 140 acres in the first and second cut and then 120 acres for the third cut. They have invested in a new self-propelled forage harvester, which chops shorter, enabling a better consolidation in the clamp.

EnviroSystems has been working with their clients to stabilise clamps using Optisile®. The three strains of lactobacillus bacteria in Optisile work by outcompeting invasive bacteria or fungi to ensure optimum ensiling of the forage throughout the initial fermentation.

The higher concentration of Lactobacillus plantarum in the product provides a more robust buffering capability of the grass, ensuring a rapid pH drop to promote the initial fermentation.

This not only helps to maximise nutrient preservation, but it also minimises losses, protects against mycotoxins and can help improve palatability and intake.  

Most silage additives contain lactobacillus bacteria, but OptiSile has a targeted blend of 3 strains that work together to protect forage from losses.

Harry Sykes, Area Sales Manager for EnviroSystems explains: “The first strain quickly dominates the forage and secretes large quantities of lactic acid, which provides the driving force behind the rapid pH drop. This creates conditions unfavourable for pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridia and Listeria to survive in.

“Our second strain produces a mixture of lactic and acetic acid, which is included due to acetic acid’s invaluable antifungal activity against mycotoxin-producing fungi and yeasts.

“Finally, once the pH of the clamp has lowered to ~ pH 5, strains 1 and 2 slow down, but this is where our third strain thrives and continues to secrete lactic and acetic acid. This provides long-term antimicrobial protection and enhanced air stability once the clamp face is opened during feed out,” he says.

By helping produce a better silage, farmers can get their cows eating more forage, an increased nutrient intake, a higher milk-from-forage return, all whilst requiring less bought-in feed, thereby offering a double return on investment.

Learn More 

Farmers can read more about Optisile here