Optimise silage quality and reap the benefits

The cold, wet spring has caused havoc for livestock producers due to lack of forage, but with the grass now growing, they can take steps to boost silage quality and cut input costs.

Grassland UK – which is being held on 10 May – is bringing together top industry experts and the latest machinery to help farmers improve productivity at minimal cost, in what has been a very difficult growing season.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on producing top quality silage right now, but many people have struggled with sowing new leys, applying timely fertiliser and getting the growth rates they require,” says head of show, Alan Lyons. “Despite this, there is still potential to get a number of quality cuts in – and with the right management there’s a lot of scope to get more from the silage you produce.”

Roy Eastlake at Biotal suggests farmers consider cutting silage more frequently this season – every four weeks – so that silage is more digestible and has a higher energy content, leading to lower purchased feed costs. “The first part of the process is to plan how much forage you’ll need for the whole year so you know what you’re dealing with.” He advises doing pre-cut grass testing to identify weaknesses and understand how it will behave as a silage. Although more frequent cuts will improve silage quality, the overall yield should be similar, so it’s worth having a discussion with any contractors prior to making the change. “A lot of contractors will charge on weight now, rather than acreage, so set targets beforehand.

“The challenge is for growers to achieve energy densities of 11.5MJ/kg dry matter, with a neutral detergent fibre of 40%, free nitrates under 1000mg/kg and sugars greater than 10% in the DM – it can be done.”

Using a conditioning mower can produce a more rapid wilt to produce 30-35% DM silage, says Mr Eastlake. “Leave a good 6-7cm of stubble in the field as this allows the crop to rapidly regrow.”

Visitors to the event – which is sponsored by Mole Valley Farmers and Oliver Seeds – will see a wide range of mowers, tedders, rakes, balers and harvesters in action, so they can compare the efficacy of each machine. They can also see different grass varieties and discuss optimal management with more than 180 leading exhibitors.

According to Bill Reilly at Germinal, having red clovers in the grass mix can help increase persistency of the sward, add to the protein content of the forage, and reduce the need for bagged fertiliser. “Adding high sugar grass can maximise daily live weight gain, at up to 386g/day with plantain and chicory. The metabolised energy comes at a fifth of the cost of cake and lasts a good deal longer.”

When ensiling, Mr Eastlake recommends picking the grass up within 12-16 hours of mowing. “It’s still respiring once it has been cut, so the quicker it’s in the clamp and sealed, the less nutrients that are lost.” Of course, the length of wilt will depend on how dry the grass is, as wet grass will require longer, he adds. “It will also want a crop specific inoculant to protect it and good clamp management – from creating thin layers of grass to airtight sheeting.”

Farmers can see good clamp management in action at Grassland UK, with the working machines filling the farm silage clamp – sponsored by Galebreaker – throughout the day. From rollers to plastic film sheeting, and shear grabs to feeding equipment, they can discuss every stage of the silage making process for optimum efficiencies.

Piers Badnell at LIC believes that quality forage is one of the keys to efficient livestock production. “In this temperate climate it’s a competitive advantage and we need to fully utilise it to bring costs down, keep cows out for longer and use less machinery and labour.”

 

 

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.