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Baled Silage Seasonal Shorts

19 June 2017
Type Media Article

By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Advisory, Galway/Clare

Having adequate quality silage is essential for all livestock farmers. The most important aspect in making quality silage is grass quality at harvesting. Quality and yield alter rapidly as summer progresses. Yield increases but quality reduces so a compromise must be reached before quality gets too poor. Young, leafy grass will be 70% digestible or more whereas strong, overgrown, stemmy grass will only be 60% digestible. Whatever which way you make it, whether pit silage or baled silage, aim to harvest grass before it becomes stemmy and seed heads start to appear.

Baled Silage – Most farms now harvest baled silage. Making baled silage is no different than making pit silage. The same principles are involved. Aim to mow grass when dry and easier to preserve. Ideally, cut grass in the afternoon and evening when sugars are highest. Weather permitting, successfully wilting the grass for 24 to 36 hours reduces or prevents effluent production, increases the sugars concentration and makes it easier to preserve.

Bale Quality – Bales of silage can be stored safely for as long as the plastic film in which they are wrapped continues to exclude air. This means that, if properly made and stored, two year old bales of silage will still be in good condition. On the other hand, damaged plastic film allows air entry over an extended duration resulting, initially, in mould (or mushroom) growth and ultimately in localised or general rotting of the silage. Silage bales should always be regular shaped and very firm. This helps both in applying the plastic film correctly and in reducing the risk of damage while the bales are being mechanically handled and transported.

Wrapping Bales – Bales should have sufficient film properly applied that once the bales have been wrapped in plastic film, the seal provided by the film continues to keep out air until the time of feeding. Some pointers when wrapping;

  • If bales are close to storage/stacking area, they should receive at least 4 layers of film wrap on every part of the bale.
  • For bales to be transported from out farm or bales that are to be stored for more than 9 months, then these bales should receive 6 layers of film wrap over every area of the bale.

Storing/Stacking of Bales – Round bales should be removed from the field immediately to prevent crow damage to the plastic and sagging of bales. Stack bales on level hardcore base close to feeding area that is free of overhanging branches, bushes or briars. Under Cross Compliance regulations, bales cannot be stored within 20m of a water body or water course. Handle bales gently with machinery, avoiding tearing or puncturing of plastic. Any puncture needs to be repaired immediately with bale tape. Bales could be wrapped close to stacking area or in fields nearby. Great care is needed in placing wrapped bales in their final stacking position. Bales can be stacked 2 high, preferably on their flat end. Specialised lifting machinery will be needed for this. Ensure any effluent from wet grass in bales in collected and stored.

Protecting Bales – Fence off bales from all livestock. A silage net is the best deterrent for crows – drape net across tyres placed on top of bales. Any rat poison used needs to be as per the campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Usage. On some farms, cats can cause a problem with tearing of plastic when climbing up onto bales. Use your discretion when dealing with these cats! Ensure to check bales regularly to see that all is in order.