Virtual Farm Walk: Small changes reap big silage quality rewards

Although there’s a major focus to increase the number of grazing days achieved annually on the farms enrolled in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf-to-Beef Programme, grass silage still serves as an important nutrition cog in these enterprises.

Unlike other beef systems, where dry suckler cows may be present to mop up poorer-quality silages over the winter months, there’s no room for inferior-quality silage in calf-to-beef enterprises, as animals need to perform at every stage of the production chain.

Calf-to-beef systems require high-quality silage of 72-74% DMD (dry matter digestibility), which is a key factor in achieving the desired levels of animal performance over the winter months.

Where inferior-quality silage is produced at farm level, animal performance may suffer or an additional outlay on concentrate feeds may be required to ensure animals are provided with an adequate quality diet to reach the desired levels of performance over the winter months.

Farming in Castleplunket, Co. Roscommon, Martin Connolly – the host farmer for today’s Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme Virtual Farm Walk – has made a number of changes in a bid to improve the quality of silage available for his growing and finishing Holstein Friesian bulls.

Martin outlines these changes in the video (below).

Strategies employed at farm level

Over the last couple of years, Martin’s silage quality was below par mainly due to the harvesting dates being too late.

The heavy nature of the ground he farms, along with high levels of rainfall in the springtime, resulted in him not being able to get his silage ground grazed off in time to close it up in early April.

As a result, closing and harvesting dates for the first and second cuts were delayed by over a month, substantially reducing silage quality.

This year, the first-cut silage ground was fertilised for silage in mid-March, having been grazed tight with weanlings at the end of the 2019 grazing season.

Fertiliser and slurry were spread to make up a rate (units/ac) of 90N 15P 90K (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium). The first cut was harvested on May 11 and has returned a result of 73% DMD on testing.

The second cut was then closed up immediately after with the same rate of fertiliser; this was harvested on June 27.

A knock-on effect of having the silage harvesting completed earlier was that Martin had aftergrass to graze the calves on far earlier this year; he expects this to have a positive impact on the liveweight gain of the calves.

Along with this, Martin has been measuring grass weekly and baling surplus paddocks as the opportunity arises, resulting in an additional 200 bales of high-quality forage harvested to date and improved sward quality all grazing season.

The silage ground has received lime based on the advice of soil samples taken last year and 8ac are currently being reseeded which will be added in to the first-cut silage ground for next year.

Martin is available to answer any questions you may have on his system throughout the day on the Teagasc Beef social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter.

Part 1: Introducing Martin Connolly: Our host farmer for today’s Virtual Farm Walk

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