Top quality grass essential for top quality silage

Apart from March, it has been a bad year for grass growth, and a lot of silage areas have been grazed, or were closed up late in May.

However, silage has been cut in some areas.

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 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 expensive concentrates are fed.

There are many reasons for poor quality silage.

The weather and the contractors can take some of the blame.

The first essential for top quality silage is very often lacking — to have a good quality clean ryegrass crop, properly fertilised.

Many crops are allowed to overgrow and lodge badly. Other farmers close up silage ground too late in April, resulting in very stemmy material.

The role of additives, where required, is often ignored, and very often, inadequate preparations are made for the harvesting operation.

Alternatives

Despite a growth in alternative feeds, grass silage, especially good quality first cuts, will remain the cheapest and most suitable source of winter feed on the vast majority of spring calving dairy farms.

A good crop of first-cut grass costs only half as much as lighter and later cuts, in terms of tonnes of digestible dry matter.

Preparation

Good preparation for silage harvesting is essential. Silage pits should be well washed out and any cracks sealed.

Proper facilities should be provided for effluent, which can vary from 10 to 50 gallons per tonne of grass, depending on the dry matter of the material being ensiled.

Silage harvesting is very expensive. However, if a reliable contractor is available, it is generally cheaper to use him rather than provide your own equipment.

Contractors and harvesting arrangements should be booked well in advance.

A suitable alternative to contractors in some areas might be a few farmers co-operating in the purchase of a pick up-wagon.

A clean pick-up area should be provided.

Crops should be regularly checked for signs of deterioration at the base, heading out etc.

Before harvesting, a sample should be tested for ensilability.

Quality

Unlike other aspects of farming, the technology for making good quality silage has changed very little over the past few decades.

A top quality crop of ryegrass is the first essential for top quality silage.

However, if harvesting is delayed or if crops are badly preserved, performance will be reduced.

Poor quality grasses have low feeding value and are difficult to preserve because of their low sugar content.

Some farmers are going for later, heavier crops.

However, where crops lodge, this is not a suitable option, because a lot of rotten, useless material has to be harvested. Lodged crops also have a very bad effect on sward recovery.


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