David Brewster, Agricultural Consultant, says, livestock farmers should consider improving silage quality to reduce feeding costs for this coming winter. He adds many farmers who are consistently profitable have mastered the art of silage making. David says farmers need to ask themselves, what did I do last year? Was I happy with the result?
Below are his top tips to help improve silage quality:
David Brewster says one of the key points is the stage of grass heading at cutting. A key driver in this decision to this will be the tonnage of silage expected and the tonnage required to feed the livestock. There is no point running short of fodder too early. High quality silage should be used for growing or milking animals. Dry cows and sheep may get fat, from it, and as a result calving/lambing difficulties could occur.
- Ensure that all nitrogen, including that present in the slurry applied, has been used up by the grass, prior to cutting. Grass takes up Nitrogen fertiliser at a rate of 2.5 kg N/Ha/day (2 Units/Acre/Day). If the cutting date is too early, fermentation will be affected adversely due to this “free” Nitrogen.
- For high quality silage, aim for 50% heading of the grass; for bulk, aim for 75% heading. There is however a trade off between bulk and quality. Decide what is important to you.
- Cut grass in the afternoon to maximise sugars, when this is practical.
- Spreading the grass or using a conditioning mower will encourage wilting.
- Wilt for 12 to 36 hours to increase dry matter and therefore reduce ensiling, and carting costs per tonne.
- If scattered, row up just before picking up. This will stop any heating in the rows
- Silage additives can act as an insurance to help with quality. This will not always work, try experimenting on your own farm, then do the sums to work out if it is worth it.
- For pit silage:
- Fill the pit as fast as possible but roll as you go.
- Ensure that the sides of the pit are packed firm. This is an area where wastage is common.
- Don’t roll excessively after a day`s pitting, unless the cover is to go on straight away. If the sheet is not on, air will be sucked into the grass at night.
- If wastage on the top and sides was a problem, last year, consider increasing the number of covers including any old ones. Silage cling film can also help too along with increasing the weight on top of the sheets, and sheet tightness.
- For individual bale silage:
- Wrap the bales after baling as quickly as possible.
- Wrap beside the stack. This will reduce handling and minimise the risk of damaging the plastic.
- The surface where you wrap the bales should be free from dirt, mud etc. This will reduce contamination of the bales.
- If bales are soft, stack like drinks cans, flat side up. This will reduce splitting of the plastic.
- If wastage was a problem last year. Consider increasing the number of layers of plastic.