Grass advice: Tips for making top-class baled silage

Grass growth rates are climbing, average cover per cow is at an all time high and pre-grazing yields on many farms are above the target level – all providing an ideal opportunity for removing surplus paddocks as bales.

Despite this, the broken weather these past few days has left farmers searching for that window of opportunity to get out and cut these paddocks for bales.

Although the weather has put a damper on things, every effort should be made to produce the best-quality bales that you can.

1. Good preservation

Wilting the grass has a huge part to play in the successful preservation of your silage and in reducing the amount of effluent produced.

If the sward cannot be wilted for a long period of time, don’t panic; at this stage a short wilt may suffice.

Keep a close eye on the weather forecast for a chance to mow. The Met Éireann app is very useful in determining when the next shower is due.

Mowing the grass after the morning dew has lifted will remove a large proportion of water from the sward. 

To speed up the drying process the grass can be spread or tedded out and then put back into rows if rain is due.

Before mowing make sure the contractor is available. The last thing you want is for grass to be left on the ground and not be able to get in contact with the contractor before the rain is due.

2. Aim for dense, firm, well-wraped bales

If you are not making them yourself, a lot of this is up to the contractor, but it is your job to ensure that your bales are being made to a high standard.

Ideally, the rows should be the full width of the mouth of the baler and the bales should be covered with no less than four uniform layers of plastic cover.

Dense and firm bales are much more easily handled and managed – without causing any damage.

3. Transport of bales

Before making bales, how they are going to be transported and where they are going to be stored should be decided upon.

Additionally, any equipment being used to stack or transport the bales must be checked to ensure it is operating correctly and fit for use.

When transporting the bales they should be handled with care to avoid damage. The bales should also be preferably removed from the field immediately after being made to avoid them being damaged by birds.

If the bales are being transported via a trailer, the trailer must be properly loaded – not overloaded – and the bales must be securely fastened. 

Any bales damaged throughout the transportation process should be repaired immediately.

4. Storage of bales

Store the bales on a level, flat surface with easy access with a tractor.

Remove bushes, briars and low overhanging branches to avoid the bales getting damaged. Under cross compliance regulations, bales cannot be stored within 20m of a waterbody or watercourse.

Finally, the bales should be fenced off from all livestock. Many farmers use a combination of netting, tyres or pallets to protect their bales from being holed by birds. Inspect regularly – after storage – for any damage.