Cutting – a forgotten step in the silage production cycle

Attention at farm level is turning towards silage harvesting and an important step, and one often forgotten about, in the whole procedure is cutting of the grass crop.

Decisions made prior to cutting, such as cutting date and time, can have a major impact on the quality of the resulting silage.

Delaying cutting date to boost yields will result in a silage crop of reduced digestibility, while cutting in less than ideal conditions can also have negative consequences on quality.

As part of Cut to Clamp, a new initiative from Volac, which aims to help farmers make consistently better silage, we take a look at the important steps to get right when cutting your silage.

1. Cutting date

The feeding value of silage is linked to the amount of leaf and stem present in the sward – and an increase in the latter leads to a corresponding fall in quality.

Delaying cutting to boost yields has a negative impact on silage quality, as research shows that the Dry Matter Digestibility (DMD) declines by 2.5-3 units for every week delay in harvest between late May and mid June.

Therefore, it is advisable to monitor the growth of the sward during May and June and to mow just before the seed heads start to emerge.

Farmers also need to identify what animals will be consuming the silage. In cases where silage is only required for maintenance, a ‘bulky’ lower-quality silage may suffice.

But, if the silage is needed for high-producing animals, such as lactating dairy cows, farmers need to focus more on the quality of the silage harvested.

Grass management and quality is vital

2. Cut when the sugars are highest

Another factor that needs to be considered is the sugar content of the grass. Grass sugars are highest on bright sunny days with cool nights.

A high sugar content is important to ensure silage crops preserve properly and if a crop is low in sugar it can be resolved by wilting or adding an inoculant.

The sugar content of a grass is now more important than the nitrogen content, as grasses with relatively high nitrogen contents will preserve as long as the sugar content is 3% or higher.

3. Mow when the weather is right

Farmers also need to keep an eye on the weather when planning to mow their silage, as it should only be done when weather conditions allow for harvesting and ensiling to be completed.

The best time to mow is when the grass is dry, after the morning dew has gone off it. This is because it is easier to dry the dew of a standing grass crop, as opposed to a cut crop.

Farmers should also avoid soil contamination of the silage.

Mowing in wet or damp conditions increases the chances of soil contamination occurring, which can result in poor preservation and reduced feed quality.

When it comes to cutting height, it is recommended to mow dense swards to 5cm. But in open swards, this may need to be increased to 7.5-10cm to avoid the risk of soil contamination.

4. Book your contractor

Although dependent on the weather, most farmers will have a rough idea of when they want to mow their silage.

Giving your contractor the heads up will make him/her aware that its nearly time to cut and hopefully put you close to the top of his/her list, when conditions allow for cutting.

Silage, Summer, Weather, Grass

5. Machinery maintenance

For farmers using their own machinery, the value of maintaining your mower and silage wagon cannot be underestimated.

In cases where blades are worn on a mower, it may be worth your while changing them out for new blades.

Case IH CVX 230 and Malone Profi 52 silage wagon

The cost of doing so is relatively inexpensive and it may prevent streaks of unharvested grass being left in the field.

Sharpening the knives in your silage wagon should also be given careful consideration. This can improve the flow rate of crop through the machine and reduce the fuel needed to complete the operation.

This post is sponsored by Volac as part of its new Cut to Clamp initiative, which aims to raise the profile of good silage as a vital part of modern farming. For more information on the Cut to Clamp initiative click here