Prepare for Silage Harvesting

Clean out the silos, effluent channels and storage tanks etc and prepare them in plenty of time for the harvest.

Carry out any repairs in sufficient time to allow adequate curing of concrete, etc; stack tyres beside the silo to facilitate quickly placing them on the polythene cover once the silo is filled; An additive can be a good investment and sugars can be measured on farm using a refractometer, while both sugars and buffering capacity can be measured on grass samples submitted before harvesting to the laboratories.

In twenty eight published trails carried out over the past decade in Britain and Ireland for a well known additive it reduced DM loss by at least 7%, because of enhanced fermentation and milk increased by 1.3 litres per cow/day or daily live weight gain by 300 grams/day.

Additives boost the bacteria population and provide enough sugar for these to feed on, so the pH drops quicker, better preserving the grass. A slower pH drop would result in unwanted types of acid (such as acetic and butyric acid) which make silage less palatable to cows, thereby reducing DM intakes.

Weed out those nasty docks!

Control weeds such as docks in early May, or prepare to spray them in the re-growth following the first-cut of silage. Remove large stones, pieces of timber, wire etc from the silage fields as these could damage machinery or contaminate the silage thereby causing animal health problems; tidy-up gateways and trim hedges adjacent to them.

Book a contractor early as this will enable you to cut the crop at the ideal time to maximise crop quality. While many will be forced to delay cutting this year due to slow growth grass should not be allowed to head out prior to cutting.

Conditioning, wide spreading and tedding can all be used to assist a rapid drying process. The objective is to convert sugar into lactic acid to preserve the grass as silage. Speed is important, as once the grass is cut, it starts to deteriorate. In addition tests have shown that 10mm of rain can wash 10% of the sugars out of the grass, which impacts on the fermentation. Grass can start to heat when mown, and the energy used comes from the grass sugars so fast ensiling is essential to minimise nutrient losses.

Rolling is required to avoid any air pockets. This is easier with shorter precision chop grass and the pit can also hold more silage. If air is allowed into the clamp, this will allow butyric acid to form and cause the top layer to decompose. Proper covering, tightening of the cover after a few days, wilting and the avoidance of soil and manure in the grass will all minimise butyric acid.

The temptation to re-use last year’s sheeting often results in silage stored under a layer of film riddled with holes, which will be susceptible to high levels of aerobic spoilage. Regular black sheeting remains the market’s best selling silage covering based on its low-cost, with modern alternatives costing considerably more.

However switching to a modern sheeting alternative can reduce DM losses by over 10% as well as eliminating spoilage caused by poor sealing. Trials carried out by one commercial firm show that hey also reduced DM losses from as much as 20% for conventional sheeting to less than 8 %.

Research also indicates that mould in the upper layer of silage can be eliminated by using an oxygen barrier film, compared to up to 15cm of mould in clamps covered with a conventional cover.

The use of purpose-made gravel bags reduces the risk of cows consuming pieces of tyre wire, thereby cutting vet bills and replacement cow costs. They also create the perfect seal, resulting in minimal silage loss, improved DM intake and performance.


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