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Growth Watch: Focus turns to second-cut silage


Excellent quality silage plays a crucial role in the nutrition of both weanling & finishing stock on calf to beef farms. Séan Cummins, Teagasc GreenAcres Advisor has some advice on second-cut silage. Seán also caught up with Peter O’Hanrahan & Richard Long to get an update on their grass situation.

The Advice

Excellent quality silage plays a crucial role in the nutrition of both weanling and finishing stock on calf to beef farms. The production of a high dry matter digestibility silage (72+ DMD) should always be targeted. When poorer-quality silages are made at farm level, an additional financial outlay on concentrates will be required to ensure both weanlings and finishing stock achieve their winter weight gain targets.

Although the majority of silage produced on the Teagasc Green Acres farms comes from first-cut, between 10-30% of the total winter feed budget comes from second-cut crops. Like first cut, the quality of this feed is dictated by the grass growth stage; where the grass plant begins to produce seed heads and stem, the quality of silage will ultimately reduce. 

After a period of unsettled weather, a dry and warm spell looks to be forecast over the coming days and there’s an excellent opportunity to save second-cut crops at farm level.

Farmers often question if silage crops have utilised the nitrogen fertiliser applied. Typically speaking, silage swards will utilise and average of 2 units per day on average. However, with conditions pointing in the right direction over the coming days, a focus on the sugar content of the crop could be more practical to ensure the desired levels of fermentation are achieved, which can be determined by collecting a grass sample prior to cutting and having it tested by your local Teagasc advisor.

A high sugar content allows the crop to ferment quickly in the pit/bale. Ideally, sugars should be above 3% to ensure preservation. If sugar levels of between 2-3% are recorded, wilting will be beneficial. To achieve the desired level of wilt, crops may be tedded out as wilting will be limited when crops are left within large rows within the field.

Farmer focus: Peter O’Hanrahan, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny

  • greenacresGrowth: 40kg DM/ha/day
  • Demand: 52kg DM/ha/day
  • Farm cover: 1,078kg DM/ha/day
  • Stocking rate: 4.31LU/ha

Although the farm cover is allowing us a little bit of leeway in terms of grass supplies on farm, growth rates are continuing to run below demand.

The farm has just exited what can be described as a ‘green drought’ situation and growth rates are only starting to bounce again after last weekend’s rain.

Ideally, I’d like to be getting in and taking surplus paddocks for bales, but I’m going to sit tight for a week and make any decision on removing paddocks on another walk.

Second-cut silage ground was mowed on Tuesday to make bales. Although this crop was a little lighter than desired, I am aiming for quality not quantity as first cuts yielded relatively well and we have a buffer of 150 bales of 2020 silage present in the yard.

With moisture in the ground now and favourable conditions for growth present this week, I’m expecting growth to increase. However, I want to play it cautiously as the farm is very light here and another extended period of dry weather here could result in growth rates falling over the space of a week.

Farmer focus: Richard Long, Ballymacarbry, Co. Waterford

  • Growth: 32kg DM/ha/day
  • Demand: 22kg DM/ha/day
  • Farm cover: 763kg DM/ha
  • Stocking rate: 1.81LU/ha

On account of the dry weather, growth has been slower than I would have liked over the past couple of weeks – averaging 32kg DM/ha/day.

However, with temperatures on the increase and last weekend’s rainfall, I’m expecting a good growth week ahead.

As it stands, calves are still being supplemented with meal. The older calves are receiving 0.5kg/head/day, while the younger calves are eating just over 1kg/head/day.

With demand after reducing due the reintroduction of first-cut silage ground back into the grazing rotation over recent weeks, I have reduced my fertiliser applications slightly. Any paddock grazed over the next couple of days will receive 20 units of nitrogen just to maintain grass quality.

The Teagasc GreenAcres Programme Advisors have regular contributions here on Teagasc Daily. You might also like to keep up to date by signing up to their e-newsletter. Find out more about the Teagasc GreenAcres Calf to Beef Programme here