Silage lessons from that strange spring

A dry, cold April put the brakes on grass growth. Then a wet May thwarted many cutting attempts, leading to some big crops.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 8:39 am
Ken Stroud urges making best possible silage as feed prices firm.
Ken Stroud urges making best possible silage as feed prices firm.

So what can we learn for the rest of this silage making season now that the longest day has past?

Firstly, remember that even if you’re getting a decent milk price, having a stock of good silage puts you in a stronger position to weather feed price volatility. 

That said, if silage was disappointing during the first half of the season, it requires extra effort to redress the balance. With this in mind, here are some thoughts for cuts to come: 

Cut when you can

As this season has underlined, making silage when there’s a weather window – even if grass looks like it’s capable of further bulking – can be much better than waiting a bit longer. Because if rain then prevents cutting, and grass gets too strong, you can end up with a heavy cut of lower quality material. 

Grass quality declines as crops become more stemmy especially if they go to head. Also, regrowth after a heavy crop, is slower than after a ‘young’ one.

On farm research by Volac in Wales, a principality with weather akin to that in this province, showed that not only can cutting more frequently deliver better quality, but also a higher total grass yield over the season. 

Wilt wisely

When facing limited weather windows, wilting rapidly – so that grass can be safely ensiled before the next rain event – is crucial. The longer the sward lies the more protein and sugars the grass will lose in the field. For faster wilting, cutting at the optimum time of day and tedding immediately after mowing are both key. 

Findings from farm trials in Pembrokeshire showed it was possible to reach the ideal 30% DM in just 4.5 hours by cutting at 10am and tedding immediately. This compared with grass cut at 3pm and left in rows which failed to reach 30% DM – reaching only 24% even after 24 hours.

Significantly, this was with a light crop cut on a warm, dry July day. On a heavier crop, drying technique is even more important. 

A proven additive adds up

Even if you don’t normally use one, including a proven additive as part of good practice from now on could certainly be helpful. Especially if you’re concerned about the quality or quantity of earlier cuts.

Ecosyl, for example, has been shown to reduce DM losses, preserve more true protein, and improve digestibility and metabolisable energy. 

With decent milk prices and potentially high feed costs, the affordability of a proven additive looks even better.

For free advice on using Ecosyl to protect your margins contact Volac NI forage specialist Ken Stroud tel; 077 1319 7084 or Volac Ecosyl distributors in Ulster, John Thompson & Son Ltd tel; (028) 9035 1321.