Advice for dairy farmers: Keep your costs under control by baling quality dry matter

Baled silage is expensive for heavy crops, mainly because of the high use of plastic.

However, the effective cost can be reduced by baling high quality, high dry matter material rather than bulky low quality material and the bales must be properly made and preserved from damage.

Research indicates that a large amount of waste and spoilage occurs with bales on Irish farms. 

Baling may be the best option for light second cuts and farmers who have poor holding facilities and with relatively small quantities of silage or with ground that is not suitable for big heavy machinery.

Baled silage also has a very useful role to play in the proper management of grass where surplus areas can be taken out to maintain grass quality. 

These bales are generally of very high quality and can be fed back into the system if necessary during periods of scarcity. 

The sudden burst of growth in mid May has resulted in surpluses of grass for grazing on many farms and will provide an opportunity to harvest a substantial amount of bales which will be required to make up deficits of good first cut silage on farms.

As discussed in recent articles the average DMD of Irish silage is approximately 66% (varying from 58% to 80%). 

There is therefore a lot of silage on farms not even capable of maintaining animals. Therefore having a supply of high DMD bales will be a great asset. 

During the quota years many herds had very long dry periods and average type silage (66%) may have been adequate. 

But in the new situation, dry cows, incalf heifers and yearlings will require adequate 71 to 73% DMD silage. Otherwise they will need a lot of supplementation.

Managing rapid growth

Maintaining high quality grass for grazing is very difficult during periods of very rapid grass growth. 

Some paddocks will have to be taken out of the grazing rotation and rotations will have to be temporarily speeded up. 

Avoid grazing heavy covers as it is hard to get them grazed out properly to less than two inches. 

Ideally pre-grazing covers must be 1,300 to 1,500 kgs/ha.

Winter feed— budget now

This is an unusual time of the year to be talking about winter feed budgets but the sooner the better this year as a lot of silage was fed in March and April and there are very little reserves on most farms. 

With grass growth at less than half the normal until May, there are some serious fodder problems on farms. 

The difficult task of providing fodder for next winter is already staring many farmers in the face even though they may be struggling with providing sufficient grazing due to extra ground being closed for silage. 

Very few farmers had the opportunity to put best practice in place for providing adequate winter feed this year.

Best practice has generally been to close up at least 40% of grassland for first cut silage in early April. 

This provided the cheapest and best source of winter feed. 

A good crop of first cut in late May/early June costs only about half that of lighter late cuts on a digestible dry matter basis. 

Trials have shown that silage yields from ground that has been grazed two or three times during spring are likely to be only half that of silage yields grazed once in March and this has to be taken into account when calculating winter feed budgets this year.

Unfortunately, grass was so scarce this year that it was almost impossible to close very much ground for silage on most farms in April or even early May.

 Getting adequate quality grass into cows and replacements is the first priority. 

However, compromises will have to be made on most farms and higher than usual supplementation will have to be continued in order to provide good quantities of silage.

Farmers should ensure that adequate N, P, K, S and lime is applied in order to get the most from your land. 

Do not apply lime now on areas that will be cut for silage as there is a huge risk of it creating a high pH in the silage and damaging it. 

Data from Teagasc and laboratories around the country indicate a very serious deficit of P, K and lime in Irish soils. 

This has to be rectified as soon as possible in order to make best use of N and provide good yields. 

In order to provide winter feed, some farmers will have to continue to feed more concentrates than normal in June. 

Cows should not be forced to graze too tightly (<3.5 cm) as this will reduce grass growth and can have a serious affect on fertility and milk production. 

While grass is scarce an extra kg of meal costing around 20c should produce one extra kg of milk worth about 24c as well as keeping cows in proper condition for breeding and good health.

It will not be possible to provide adequate silage on many dairy farms especially due to the fact that the normal supply of after grass will not be coming back into the grazing system in late June/July. 

Now is the best time to make provisions for next winter because as the year progresses the options will become more difficult and costly.


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