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Making quality silage to offset the rising meal price

Making quality silage to offset the rising meal price

It is difficult to predict next winter’s concentrate prices. Beef farmers who have been growing or finishing cattle will need to offset the rising meal price by improving the quality of silage they make, which will allow them to feed less meal per head, while still achieving target growth rates.

For example, a farmer feeding weanlings 72% dry matter digestibility (DMD) grass silage instead of 67% DMD, could save 1kg of meal per head per day (1.0kg v 2.0kg meal per day) and still have the same daily gain. If this farmer was feeding 50 weanlings over 140 days that would mean they would save seven tonnes of ration, as outlined in Table 1.

The biggest influence on whether you make a 72% DMD or a 67% DMD grass silage is the date that the crop is cut. Essentially, once the sward of mostly leaf and stem material is kept to a minimum, the quality will remain high. This is usually the case up until the middle of May. From then on, quality starts to decrease as more and more stem develops.

Every week that cutting is delayed, the quality decreases by 2.5-3.0 DMD units. If swards were not grazed this spring before they were closed, it is even more important to bring forward the cutting date. Lodging will have the biggest impact on reducing silage quality. If the target is plus 72% DMD silage you will need to watch the crop closely from May 20 onwards and have your contractor lined up. Silage crops that are not harvested until the early days of June are unlikely to be above 70% DMD.

Table 1: Silage quality variation impact on concentrates required

Silage quality


72% DMD


67% DMD


62% DMD

Very poor

55% DMD

Store cattle on silage only
Liveweight gain
(kg/140-day winter)
102 83 55 21
Concentrates required
1.0 2.0 3.0 4.5
For 50 weanlings
140-day winter
7t 14t 21t 31.5t
Concentrate costs
over winter at
€2,800 €5,600 €8,400 €12,600

This article as forst published in the Teagasc Beef Newsletter May 2023, read the full publication here.