As the annual cereal harvest looms, alkasystem feed and forage specialist FiveF is reporting a surge of interest from dairy farmers keen to boost the protein value of crops earmarked for the winter ration. “Farmer enquiries really have been phenomenal this summer as milk producers, in particular, seek ways of offsetting the impact of high bought-in protein costs by exploring ways of extracting as much value as possible from cereal crops in the ground,” reports Malcolm Graham, nutritionist with the company. “Early indications too suggest that first cut silage protein levels are lower than anticipated on many farms, so farmers are looking to explore potential nutrition solutions now rather than having to resort to buying in expensive feed once the winter closes in,” he adds. Mr Graham says that many dairy farmers are now crimping a dry, mature cereal crop to produce alkagrain, which is a stable, high energy/high protein feed that can replace bought-in concentrates. Alka grain can be produced from all types of cereal grains at harvest. “The grain should be mature and, ideally, in the dry matter range 80-85%. This is much drier than for conventional crimping, giving a wider harvest window, delivering higher nutrient capture and potentially an improved combine work rate. The crop can also be harvested in damp conditions, as a little surface moisture can actually speed up the preservation process in storage.” He adds that many producers of alka grain have found that as well as the obvious benefits of alkalinity and stability in storage, the addition of the proprietary pellets used in its production boosts the conserved feed’s protein level and allows a greater proportion of cereal to be used in the ration. “Essentially, this is a dual cash benefit and some farmers we work with are even able to double or triple the standard cereal inclusion rate to deliver the final feed protein level they require. It also allows them to feed more starch without compromising milk yield and quality.” Addition of the FiveF high protein pellets to the harvested crop aggressively releases ammonia into the material, giving long-term stability and raising the pH to the alkaline range (pH 8.0 to 9.0). The protein level rises, fibre digestibility is improved and vermin attention is discouraged. “In effect, we are utilising protein that will be bought in the winter to conserve and enhance the grain during storage. And you can do all this without the need for bespoke equipment, specialist storage or drying, all-in-all giving you up to a 25% saving compared with alternative cereal processing methods,” Mr Graham says. He claims that by making alka grain dairy farmers will spend around £30 per tonne less on bought-in added protein. “For example, to produce a high quality 18% protein ration using home-grown barley plus a bought-in soya and rape blend requires an outlay of £72 per tonne. With alka grain your outlay is only £41 per tonne and the proportion of ration protein coming from your cereals is over 50%, compared with only 44% in the conventional diet,” Mr Graham says.