No matter what system is operated on farm, making high quality silage offers many benefits to farmers.

In a recent episode of the ‘Let’s Talk Dairy’ webinar series, Stuart Childs, a dairy specialist with Teagasc, discussed how to cut for the highest quality of silage.

Given the last few weeks with poor grass growth on farm, farmers are advised to make the best quality silage possible now, and meet requirements for good quality silage first.

Delaying the harvest date will reduce the dry matter digestibility (DMD) of the crop and the overall quality.

This will lead to elevated costs next winter, due to increased concentrates.

Benefits of high quality silage

  • Reduced concentrate feeding;
  • Improved milk solids yield;
  • Improved cow condition at calving;
  • Better herd fertility;
  • Replacement heifers at target weight;
  • Improved daily gain;
  • Shorter finishing period;
  • Higher annual yields.

Target silage DMD

Stuart stated that farmers should be ”focusing their minds in terms of ‘what are we aiming to achieve from our silage making’.

“Depending on your calving system / system of production you are operating, [this] should determine the quality of the silage you are aiming to make.

”Farmers planning on milking cows off silage should be aiming for 75+ DMD, with spring calvers requiring 74DMD silage to buffer them in early spring.

”This silage may also be needed in the back end of the year; as stocking rates have increased, grass demand comes under pressure on farms.”

Stuart continued: ”Feeding high quality silage to youngstock is also important to ensure maximum growth rates are achieved, and concentrate input is kept to a minimum.”

Target silage DMD for different classes of stock Percentage
Autumn calving cows 75+
Spring dairy calving cows in-milk and finishing cattle 74
Dry cows in poor body condition score (BCS) and suckler cows in milk 70
Dry dairy cows in good BCS 68
Dry suckler cow 66
Source: Teagasc

Determining silage quality

Once seed heads appear, DMD will be around 70% at most, and will drop by 1% DMD every two to three days after that.

Lodged crops with dead material at the base will be 3-4% lower DMD. Therefore, the advice to improve average quality is to cut from mid-late May onwards, rather than to defer cutting closer to mid-June.

Some flexibility in harvest date (four to five days) is usually necessary to ensure favourable cutting conditions.

It is advisable to monitor the development of your crop and check the heading date, the absence of lodging and for the absence of the accumulation of dead herbage.