Surplus silage is like money in bank. Or is it?

It is hard to remember a better spring for grass on farms.

With the abundance of grass available on most farms, many may end up making more silage than they require for next winter.

Many farmers will tell you surplus silage is like money in the bank. But is it?

Winter may not yet be over. All going well, it is over — but you never know in Ireland, and silage could yet become valuable this spring.

Meanwhile, for beef producers intending to finish stock on their farm next winter, now is the time to plan for your home-produced forages.

Grass silage production is getting more and more expensive every year, and unfortunately, its quality can be variable, depending on weather, cutting date, grassland management, and reseeding policy.

Too much poor quality silage or average silage in the pit may in fact increase overall production costs.

Crops such as maize silage and whole-crop cereals provide high dry matter and starch contents.

Other alternative feeds, such as fodder beet, sugar beet and potatoes are also excellent energy sources.

The addition of a second forage source along with grass silage to a beef finisher diet will increase forage dry matter intake by between 10% and 15%.

This will result in reduced concentrate inputs requirements.

Maize

Maize produces very high quality forage with the potential for high dry matter intake and improved animal performance.

Where target yield is achieved, the cost per tonne of dry matter is significantly less than for grass silage.

It is convenient, because sowing and harvesting are done by a contractor.

Feeding and storage can be done with existing grass silage facilities.

There are no rotational constraints with maize, and it utilises slurry very well.

Site selection, sufficient fertiliser, variety, and weed control, are critical factors in producing a successful crop of maize.

Maize grown under plastic in 2011 produced excellent quality and yields, and I would suggest that it pays for itself in both good and bad growing years.

Maize is not suitable in some areas of the country — so get the right advice before growing a crop to avoid disappointment.

Costs

When comparing crops for feeding, the important figures are cost per tonne of dry matter, and energy supply per kg of dry matter.

Not included in the Teagasc figures in the accompanying table is maize under plastic — but it is well accepted that maize produced efficiently under plastic can be produced consistently for €100/tonne of dry matter.

Alternative forages provide a much more consistent quality product from year to year than grass silage. The technology is now there to help farmers produce these feeds on their farm. All of the alternatives, if produced efficiently, will cost less than grass silage, and will enhance animal performance. Apart from that, purchasing these alternatives from a specialised crop producer also remains a viable option, in light of the forever variable and likely rising cost of concentrates.

* Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at brian@pfn.ie


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