‘You can’t turn a cow’s ear into a silk purse’; so you can’t do it with silage

The silage season has kicked into gear slightly earlier this year, as farmers take advantage of the good weather.

At a recent silage quality event, Teagasc’s Eddie O ‘Riordan discussed some best practices for farmers when they are preparing, making and preserving their silage.

Eddie explained how many farmers are targeting bulk when they should be targeting quality.

He said: “When yields go up, quality goes down; so you need to get a balance between the two and as quality goes up, intakes go up – with liveweight gain going up as result.

“There is no question that good-quality silage brings cost savings too,” he added.

High dry matter (DM) yield

“The preparation of your silage in the lead up to cutting is hugely important,” explained Eddie.

Touching on how you can prepare your silage ground, he said: “Simply applying the required nutrients – in terms of phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and lime – is a huge part of successfully producing a crop of silage.”

He also noted how getting in and grazing your silage fields early in the spring rather than later will result in higher yields when cutting.

High nutritive value

The nutritive value is what the animal gets from the silage when it is digested.

A ryegrass-based sward is going to give us the most nutrition for the animal.

“In terms of getting high value, not grazing the sward in the spring or late autumn will contribute to a 7% reduction in the dry matter digestibility (DMD) – because the dead material will be left at the base of the sward when cutting.”

Furthermore, harvesting at the right stage will largely contribute to the nutritive value of the sward. This should be completed before the seed head begins to emerge on the crop.

“The longer you delay cutting, the grass digestibility continues to decline.

Particularly when you reach the third week in May because this is when the seed head begins to emerge and, once this happens, the base begins to form a stem to support this seed head.

“The feeding value of the crop deteriorates quite rapidly after this.

“Each week that you delay cutting after the primary growth stage (mid-May), this is a 3% drop in the DMD of your silage,” highlighted Eddie.

Efficient ensilage process

“You can’t convert a cow’s ear to a silk purse; so if it’s poor quality coming in, no matter what you do with it, you’re not going to convert it to a high-feeding value for next winter.

“Once all these points are targeted and you have a good crop of silage, you need to get the preservation right.

“If it’s badly preserved this can cause a drop in DMD by 3% – because you are actually using up nutrients in the crop when it is being preserved.”

Good preservation tips:
  • Wilt the sward to a DM percentage between 28% and 32%;
  • Use two high-quality polythene covers;
  • Allow the cover down over the sides of the walls of the pit;
  • Seal all sides using sand bags and/or tyres;
  • Ensure effluent can escape from the silo and is safely collected;
  • Re-seal the silo once it has ‘sunk’.

“Likewise, at feed-out time, if the crop begins to get hot this is simply burning off energy too,” concluded Eddie.

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