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6 factors to consider for this year’s silage season

6 factors to consider for this year’s silage season

With silage feeding not that far in the rear view mirror on a lot of farms, James Fitzgerald, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Ballina, explains why the time is now to take first cut-silage, if possible, to set your farm up as best you can for the year ahead.

Silage stocks have been depleted on almost all farms and many farms are reassessing how much silage they need to have in stock each winter, considering how long the winter feeding went on for in the winter period gone by. Below are some points to consider regardless of system or land quality for the season ahead.

1) Decide on silage quality needed

For spring-calving suckler herds, dry cows will need about 6 bales (1.1 tonne DM) per cow of 68 DMD silage with all remaining silage at higher quality (72DMD+). All younger cattle, finishing cattle and sheep need 100% of silage at 72+ DMD.

2) Cut at the right time

Grass growth stage at harvest is the most important factor deciding silage quality. Once seed heads appear, DMD will be around 70% at most, and will drop by 1% every 2-3 days from then on. The main step to improve silage quality is harvesting in mid to late May rather than into mid-June.

3) Do not sacrifice quality for bulk

Once soil fertility is ok and the crop was fertilised correctly, well-managed silage swards should have good yields ready for cutting by late May. Using a ‘one big first cut’ approach to make silage reduces silage quality drastically and in fact increases risk of fodder shortages, as second cut yields are reduced by pushing first cuts into mid-June. Given the slower growth this spring and challenging weather conditions throughout, it is still best to aim for a late May harvest for first cut.

4) Do not wait ‘for Nitrogen to leave the crop’

A common reason for putting off cutting silage is concern about nitrogen. A useful guide for fertiliser is that grass uses 2 units of nitrogen per acre per day on average (a 50kg bag of urea contains 46 units of N, a bag of 18-6-12 contains 18 units of N). Ideally 100 units of N per acre should be applied approximately 50 days before the planned cutting date. However, if weather conditions are suitable to wilt the grass after cutting, you do not need to worry about having nitrogen left in the crop. Wilting the grass for a day will increase the concentration of sugar due to the extraction of water and the grass will ensile effectively regardless of the nitrogen level in the grass.

5) Plan properly for second cut

With early cutting of the first cut, there is a great opportunity to get a proportion of silage made which you can be sure is of the highest quality possible. You then know exactly where you stand with regards to how much of your total winter requirements you have in stock, allowing you to close up the correct amount of ground for second cut to meet 100% of your silage requirements for the year ahead.

6) Heavy machinery needs solid ground

The aim should be to get as much of the heavier machinery work done when ground conditions are best suited to this work. Taking the first cut in late-May will allow for a second cut to be harvested in July, when ground conditions are likely to be favourable (hopefully). This also maximises the opportunity for spreading slurry and getting tanks fully emptied before next winter, as slurry can be spread after either or both cuts of silage if not already done earlier in the year. Also numerous farmers applied for a grant to spread lime last year and have yet to complete the spreading of this lime. Consult your soil samples and apply lime accordingly while the field is bare after harvesting the last crop of silage. This should see the majority of the heavy machinery work done by late July as opposed to later in the year when weather conditions might not be as favourable.

Safety at silage time

In below video, Brendan Garry, Teagasc Ballinrobe, reminds the wider public to be aware of extra machinery on our roads as the silage season is in full swing.

Also read: Budgeting feed for next winter

Also read: Make safety a priority this silage season