Consider cutting first cut early to maintain quality

Farmers looking to avoid the dip in first cut silage quality seen last season could benefit from cutting silage earlier than planned this spring.

Mole Valley Feed Solutions nutritionist Pete Isaac, says mild conditions have resulted in high winter carry over, which makes monitoring grass growth and potentially cutting ahead of usual essential.

“Last year there was a wide range in silage qualities, with a weighting towards lower energy crops. A lot of that was down to the growing season, which you couldn’t do anything about, but this year there’s a lot of grass about so to avoid the same mistakes as last year, it’s worth planning to go a bit earlier than you would normally,” he explains.

By planning to go 4-5 days earlier than the date you might have in mind, if conditions go against you, it also provides a bit of leeway to get it right.

Pete suggests walking fields now and looking for any indication of early seed head emergence. As always, the aim should be to cut before heading. It’s estimated that every week’s delay in harvest after the optimum time can result in 2% higher field dry matter (DM) losses due to slower wilting of a heavier crop and 0.5 MJ lower ME/kg DM.

Pete adds: “There’s a lot of grass out there. If you leave it too long, you’ll get a lot of lower quality silage in the clamp. If you’re using a contractor, speak to them about what you’re trying to achieve and if they’re offering you different dates, opt for the earlier ones. By planning ahead and cutting at the optimum time, the improvements in the quality of the silage you make and the benefits at feed out could be huge.”

Investing in a good quality silage additive, which has undergone robust, independent testing is also worth while. Although many farmers may have opted to save costs by not using an additive last year, Pete believes this is a false economy.

“It’s OK to save costs by not using an additive, but you’re losing out on the added nutritional value of using one, which could be worth as much as 1.6-1.7 litres a cow a day more,” he explains.

He also reminds farmers that making quality silage relies on good management at ensiling. He emphasises the importance of effective crop consolidation in the clamp and the benefits of using a cling film silage sheet to keep air out and avoid wastage.

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