Headlage, snaplage provide cost effective alternatives

By Rick Bayne

Wheat headlage and corn snaplage are providing northern Australian farmers with nutritional and cost effective feed options.

And more might be turning to the system after about 40 dairy farmers attended an August 4 field day at Allora, including some who travelled 150 km in a mini bus.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries dairy extension officer Ross Warren said there was very positive reaction to the day, with a lot of interest in adding the alternative forages in dairy operations.

Mr Warren said wheat headlage and corn snaplage trials at the Gatton research farm and the Allora farm both produced positive results.

“There were similar responses at Gatton to what we achieved on farm,” he said.

Headlage refers to a silage crop that has been cut higher than standard, usually just below the first leaf. Wheat headlage yields two times the physical material per hectare as the same crop taken for grain, and is one-third the price of grain on a dry matter basis.

Andrew Mullins, who hosted the field day at his Allora farm, decided to trial the wheat and corn options after seeing the work at Gatton.

Last winter he tried wheat headlage for the first time and then turned to corn over summer.

Both were good but corn seems the best option.

“The wheat wasn’t as high in starch as we’d been hoping,” Mr Mullins admitted.

The crop was damaged by insects.

Corn earlage

“We had the option of either spraying it and waiting for the withholding period or cutting it early so we went early, which I think hindered our starch development in that headlage,” Mr Mullins said.

The longer headlage is left ensiled, the more digestible the starch becomes. However, further local results indicate corn might still be the best option.

“Others around us who did wheat a bit later still didn’t have as much starch in it as what the corn did, so I think the corn is a much better option,” Mr Mullins said.

He plans to plant 80 hectares this year. “Probably half that we’ll need for silage so whatever is left we’ll put down the same again“.

Mr Mullins said corn snaplage — or earlage — was “brilliant“ nutrionally and was enjoyed by cows.

“We just pull grain out and put the earlage in. It’s pretty much two kilos as fed for every kilo of grain you pull out. You swap over and they never miss a beat; they just went straight on to it. Because it’s in a mixed ration they took straight to it.“

The new rations have led to improvements in milk fat component, which increased about 0.3 per cent.

“There’s quite a bit of fibre in it with the husk of the corn crop still in the silage. It’s cut long and shaggy and I thought the cows might leave it behind but they eat every little bit of it,“ Mr Mullins said.

Production is no more expensive than regular harvests. “We have to get contractors to harvest if we go through to grain; either way we’re paying a contractor,“ Mr Mullins said.

“The beauty of it is that once the contractor is finished, it’s ready to feed. With grain you still have to process it, so this gives you an option without going to all the expense of infrastructure such as mills and silos to handle grain.“

After replacing the wheat with corn, production went up about 10 per cent. “It hasn’t changed since then,“ Mr Mullins said.

Mr Mullins urged othger farmers to consider wheat headlage and corn snaplage options.

“It’s just a matter of trial and error. You’ve got to get your fibre under control first but then it’s a bonus. When we’ve got enough silage so we’ve got our fibre set down for the year, then we can go chasing higher quality products like the headlage or earage.

“I think the corn will be a lot easier for us to work with and it suits the high starch quality a lot more than the wheat.“

Northern NSW dairy farmer Jason Bake is a long-term user of the system and also presented his positive impressions to the field day.