Advice for dairy farmers: Why cows are eating more and more silage

With the end of milk quotas, silage makes up an increasing proportion of feed, because cows are being calved earlier, and will be milked later in the season.

Therefore, more farmers should focus more on silage quality rather than on bulk.

High-DMD silage will boost animal performance and reduce the requirement for expensive concentrates.

Poor-quality silage will result in poor animal performance, which will not only have serious economic effects during the feeding period, but also for long afterwards.

For example, poor-quality silage can reduce milk production by one gallon per day, and often results in cows calving in poor condition, with increased fertility problems, and replacements falling far short of optimum targets, unless a lot of concentrates are fed.

There can be many reasons for poor-quality silage.

The first essential for top quality silage is to have a clean ryegrass crop, properly fertilised.

But many crops are allowed to overgrow and lodge badly.

Or farmers close up silage ground too late in April, resulting in very stemmy material which naturally goes to seed (heads out) in mid-June. 

Excess or late application of N fertiliser or slurry reduces sugar levels in the grass, and makes it more difficult to preserve. 

Inadequate preparation for harvesting, and poor covering, are frequent causes of problems.

Contractors charging by the acre rather than by time encourages some farmers to allow crops to “bulk up”. 

Instead, farmers and contractors should discuss these matters prior to harvesting.

The type of machinery used for harvesting makes little difference to quality, if the basic requirements are adhered to.

The vast improvement in pick-up wagons, and the high cost of fuel, must be taken into account.

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