Joe Sheehy: Most silages only mid to high 60s for DMD

This has been a fairly good year for grass growth but there have been some difficult grazing periods.

Broken weather in May has seriously upset grazing and silage plans.

Farmers who closed up for silage at the start of April are preparing to harvest as soon as the opportunity arises.

It is disappointing to find that average silage quality, as indicated by analysis of tested samples, seem to be deteriorating rather than improving. Some farmers make excellent silage every year (75 DMD+), but most samples tested are only in the mid to high sixties.

With the end of milk quotas, silage will make up a higher proportion of feed than in the past, as cows will calve earlier and will be milked later in the season. Therefore, farmers should focus more on quality 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, that not only has 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 are many reasons for poor quality silage. The weather and the contractors can take some of the blame. However, there are other reasons. The first essential for top quality silage is to have a good quality clean ryegrass crop properly fertilised — and this is very often lacking.

Many crops are allowed to overgrow and lodge badly. Other farmers close up silage ground too late in April, resulting in very stemmy material which naturally goes to seed in the first few weeks of 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 covering is a frequent cause of problems. The contractor practice of charging by the acre rather than by time encourages some farmers to allow crops to “bulk up”, and this is bad for the farmer and the contractor.


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