Review of winter forage 2015

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To say this winter has been challenging would be an understatement with very difficult forages for farmers to work with according to Louis Hurdidge, Sil-All product manager for Northern Ireland.

Silages were wet and high in fibre with poor intake characteristics. Getting milk from forage has been challenging.

For many years the milk from forage would be a key target but this season the rules would have been thrown out of the window.

In recent years costings from a farmer funded independent research group would suggest that the top 25% of producers would have been producing 800 more litres from forage and using nearly 1 tonne of meal less per cow to produce the same level of milk as the average. At today’s feed prices this would be worth £120.00 extra margin per cow. The top 10% produced £198.00 more margin than the average.

The key to producing milk from forager is a plentiful supply of good quality forage. This seems obvious but very hard to achieve.

Making good quality silage is a compromise between what is good for the forage and what is good for the cow.

For the clamp, the grass needs to be short and of the correct dry matter to achieve good packing and rolling for consolidation. It also needs to be dry enough for good sheeting and feeding out.

For the cow, the silage needs long enough to provide effective fibre and of the correct dry matter to balance the concentrate either in the feeder wagon or meal fed directly to the cows.

Too wet, total dry matter intake and cud balls can be a problem.

Too dry, the diet can have heat spoilage or the cows could sort out the diet.

Silage Making Targets:

Target Range

Dry Matter 27-30 %

ME 10.7-11ME

pH 3.8-4.2

Ammonia of total N <8

The table above gives the guidelines you can affect, by wilting, time of cutting and silage making management. Other factors such as protein are really determined by the age of the sward and the types of grasses sown. So in the short term you can only affect the above. In the medium to long term new high sugar grasses and addition of clover can increase sugars and protein of the silage.

The Key Stages to Improving Silage Quality

In the field:

Aim to cut the grass after 11.00 in the morning as the sugars in the grass will be increasing. Adjust tedding policy to reduce the risk of soil contamination in wet condition or over drying on warm sunny days.

Filling the clamp:

Grass ensiling is the key, too quick and the grass is pushed in rather than layered in; this allows air pockets to remain within the clamp and rolling will be ineffective. Rolling will only press the top 10-15cms all the grass below will be unaffected. These air pockets will reduce the effectiveness of the fermentation and allow for higher clamp losses, reducing feed value. If there is a backlog of tipped grass stop the chopper of reduce the numbers of trailers drawing in.


Once the grass is cut and clamped with adequate rolling it is then important to maximise the rate of fermentation. This should be achieved by sheeting the clamp with adequate weight and speeding the fermentation with a multi strain inoculant with an added enzyme package- this provides adequate sugars for the fermentation and range of dry matter and pH.

Feeding out:

Keep a clean silage face, even if this means taking half shear grabs across the pit, don’t pull the sheet too far from the clamp face as this could allow air onto the top of the grass or rain to spoil the top.

Plan Ahead:

Now is the time to start thinking about your harvest plans for 2015. As you have gone through the list of points mentioned, are there any jobs that need to get done to help achieve what you are looking for. Better thinking about them now rather then when the contractor is in the yard ready to go!

For more information on using silage inoculants and how to get the best from them, contact Mark Crawford from Farmcare Products on 07733346310, or talk to your United Feeds rep.