Believe it or not, silage sample test results aren’t great this year

Silage results are starting to come back from labs, as farmers get ready for winter feeding. 

After such a good grass growing year, most have assumed that silage quality will be good this year. However, believe it or not, many results do not make for pretty reading.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many excellent silages out there, particularly those cut in the first three weeks of May. Many silages are either too dry or very wet this year, and many have a high pH, and ammonia nitrogen readings are excessive.

Some silages are coming back with good DMD results, but wet, with high ammonia nitrogens and high pH, and are not very palatable feeds.

Getting livestock to eat this material in sufficient amounts will prove to be a challenge on many farms. These silages will also need very careful management in the pit. High ammonia nitrogen with a high pH will cause silage to go off at the pit face very soon after being exposed to the air.

The high ammonia nitrogen levels are due to all of the nitrogen applied to the grass not growing out of it before harvest. Obviously, this is as a result of poor growing conditions, and the continued obsession with putting out in excess of 100 units of nitrogen for a first cut.

If you couple excess nitrogen with poor growth, it will lead to high ammonia nitrogens, and poor preservation. Pit management in these circumstances will be crucial.

Getting across the pit face quickly will be essential to reduce spoilage.

A sheer grab will be the best way to keep pits neat and tidy and reduce the surface area.

Those used to taking silage out of a pit with a loader bucket may need to go back to the grab to avoid huge silage waste this season.

Wet silages are very difficult to manage in any year, and this year may pose an even bigger problem, if they have not preserved well.

Getting all stock types to eat enough will prove difficult, therefore making sure the silage is clean and not gone off before feeding will be essential.

The same will apply for over-dry silages which generally don’t preserve well either. This is due to over-wilting. Grass should never be on the ground for more than 24 hours before being ensiled (the recommendation is obviously different for bales, particularly if being saved later in the season).

Mineral content of silages

Poorly preserved silages have in general turned up with poor mineral content. This will invariably result in more mineral deficiencies in stock, if deficits are not dealt with correctly.

This coming season, it will be critical to use the correct vitamin and mineral premix for livestock.

Years with good quality silage are much more forgiving in herds with regard to metabolic disorders caused by mineral deficiencies.

The last thing a beef or dairy farmer wants is a lot of held cleanings, or milk fevers caused by silage, when the mineral profile is poor.

It is best to avoid this eventuality by matching your silage with an appropriate mineral for each class of stock on your farm.

Many farmers over the last few years have begun using a mineral bolus as part of their supplementation programme.

They work really well where deficiencies are identified on farm, and if the bolus includes the mineral which is in low supply.

Many suckler farmers I speak to find calving goes much better if cows got a dry cow bolus. However, a bolus should be used in conjunction with a complete mineral pack for stock, and not as the sole mineral supplement.

Formulating the correct mineral testing, and correctly balancing silage for minerals, could be money well spent this year.


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