Wholecrop silage season is kicking off. Unlike last year, many of the crops being ensiled this season were planted with the intention of saving these cereal crops for silage.

Winter barley crops, intended for wholecrop, are approaching the time for cutting and knowing when to harvest is one of the most important factors to consider.

The aim should be to harvest crops at a dry matter content of approximately 45%. Once the crop reaches a dry matter content of 50% the grain should be cracked.

Deciding on dry matter

When crops are at a dry matter content of approximately 45%, the grain will have passed the milky stage and have reached the soft cheddar stage. The canopy should still have some green leaves and the majority of the stem of the crop should still be green.

Teagasc has provided a guide to dry matter contents and crop stages which may be useful for anyone thinking of harvesting wholecrop silage. The chart also indicates the right time to make fermented, treated or processed wholecrop silage.

As indicated above, the soft cheddar stage at 45% dry matter content is ideal for fermented wholecrop. If the crop moves on further – and dry matter content increases to 55-65% – the recommendation is to treat the crop with urea.

At this stage the crop will be yellow – the stem may still be slightly green – and the grain will be at the hard cheddar stage.

Image source: Teagasc

Get cracking

Where a crop passes a dry matter content of 50%, the grain is at the hard cheesy stage and is beginning to ripen and become hard. Crops which have reached this stage should be cracked and a forage harvester fitted with a grain cracker should be used to harvest the crop.