Silage – what to do as grass quality deteriorates rapidly

Many dairy and livestock farmers have missed the boat in terms of maximising first cut grass silage quality this year, according to independent grassland consultant Cathal McAleer.

“Stem length is now rapidly increasing at the expense of leaf growth,” he said.

“This will reduce the quality of the fermentation in the pit, which will lead to the production of forages with lower than hoped for feeding values next winter.

“I am aware that the weather has not been conducive to good silage making over recent days. Farmers are left with the conundrum: do we push ahead with a direct cut and ensile operation now or wait for better weather and accept significantly lower-quality forages next winter?

“In our own case, we went for the first option earlier this week.”

McAleer said that, in light of the problems associated with many first cuts this year, farmers must strive to maximise the value of their second cuts.

“Getting the correct amount of fertiliser sown out as quickly as possible is the first priority,” he said.

“Swards will require 80 units/ac of nitrogen,  80 units of potash and 25 units of phosphate. Slurry should be spread as soon as possible after the first cut has been taken.

“Applying 2,000 gallons of slurry per care will provide up to 70 units of potash, 20 units of phosphate and 20 units of nitrogen. The remainder of the crop nutrient requirement can be met by sowing bagged fertiliser.”

KW Forage’s Michael Cleary says sugar levels are quite low at the moment in grass and this will reduce the quality of the fermentation in the pit, which will have a negative impact on feed out quality next winter.

While approximately 70% of this year’s first silage crops have now been made in the North Leinster area, just 50% has been cut in the South East and the Midlands, he said.

“The difference is accounted for by the fact that farmers in the north east did not graze silage ground earlier in the year.”

Cleary also confirmed that increasing numbers of farmers are now testing fresh grass samples for Nitrogen prior to cutting.

“In cases where an effective 24-hour wilt can be assured, this will not be an issue,” he said.

“But, in those instances, when silage making becomes a cut and run exercise, because of changeable weather conditions, there is every good reason to have grass samples analysed prior to harvest. Most Teagasc offices provide this service.”

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