Silage fever advice for farmers

Andrew McMordie, Ruminant Nutrition Adviser, North Down
Andrew McMordie, Ruminant Nutrition Adviser, North Down

There are many important factors that need to come together in order to achieve the aim of making first class silage in Northern Ireland.

For many farmers the focus is on good weather and a belief that plenty of sunshine alone at point of harvesting will result in a high-quality cut of silage.

Sunshine is indeed a great asset in this process, however as we have seen in recent days it is one of the things that we have the least control over, so the focus should be on making sure you have done everything within your power to ensure that the weather is the only missing piece of the jigsaw required for your silage to be the best it can be.

Deciding when to cut is vitally important and if you have any doubt about there still being nitrogen in the grass it is well worth getting it tested rather than taking a risk.

United Feeds advisers can provide this service for you. Grass should be cut just before the seed head emerges and ideally mown in the afternoon when the sugars and dry matter in the grass will be highest.

A rapid wilt of the sward is advised to further increase the dry matter and this is best done by mowing in wide swathes and tedding the grass immediately. Wilting for longer than twenty-four hours should be avoided as grass deteriorates after this point.

In hot weather a couple of hours wilt will be sufficient to prevent grass getting too dry which can lead to an increased chance of leaf shatter at harvesting and risk of aerobic spoilage in the pit.

It is strongly advised to use a high quality, well proven silage inoculant such as Sil-All 4x4+ and it is essential to be sure the person on the harvester is aware of the application rate and is regularly checking it is being applied correctly. Sil-All 4X4+ is an organic approved product comprised of four bacterial strains and four enzymes to enhance forage preservation during ensiling.

This means fermentation occurs faster, inhibiting the development of spoilage organisms. The Sil-All 4X4+ homolactic fermentation converts sugar directly into lactic acid, minimizing DM loss. Even when forage has low sugar content, enzymes improve sugar release to enhance fermentation for nutritious, highly palatable silage and with the inclusion of Propionibacterium acidipropionici bacteria, silage stays stable — even at feed out when silage encounters oxygen.

Thanks to its action on mould and yeast inhibiting properties, this bacteria strain keeps your silage cooler for longer.

The person on the buck rake is critical to the process and can greatly influence the fermentation of each crop of silage. It is essential that it is put in evenly across the pit in thin layers to allow it to be thoroughly compacted and pushing out as much air as possible to create good anaerobic conditions for the grass to ferment quickly.

The pit should be well rolled as it is being filled and covered quickly on completion. If the pit is being left overnight or during a break in the weather; pull a cover over it to minimise air ingress and if you are adding more grass to the clamp after being stopped for more than four hours a layer of fresh grass should be applied over the top of the clamp before rolling is resumed so no air is reintroduced.

When covering the clamp seal the edges well to make sure no air or water can get in and use an oxygen barrier such as Silostop or Passion Film to form an air tight seal over the clamp before applying a top cover with as much weight as possible to maximise compaction in the clamp.

For more information on silage making, Sil-All 4x4+ or Oxygen Barriers please contact your local United Feeds adviser or drop in to see them in the Dale Farm pavilion at Balmoral Show.