March 24th - 2021

Don't throw away 10 acres of grass

Silage production

Total clamp losses of over 10% are seen in many traditional silage clamps through a reduction in dry matter and inedible silage due to moulds and bacteria. This equates to a loss of 30% in the top 1m of a 20x50m silage clamp. When converted to tonnage this is a loss of over 180 tonnes. If you switch to Silostop oxygen barrier sheets these losses are halved – giving you an additional 100 tonnes of edible silage – an average of 10 acres of grass.

Silage is growing in importance worldwide as farms try to maximise the value of home-grown forage crops. The financial investment in silage is a significant proportion of total annual farm expenditure, especially where livestock are housed for most of the year. The emphasis in this series is on optimising the return on your time and expenditure growing those crops.

Too often silage is poor quality due to delayed harvest or wet weather. Unfortunately, over-mature or contaminated crops at harvest will not be converted into higher quality silages during storage. Losses can be higher during the storage period due to oxygen ingress into the silo and these losses have to be replaced by additional silage or expensive concentrates.

Harvesting and ensiling procedures have a large impact on the nutritional quality of silage. By the time the crop has been harvested and stored, all the investment has been made. The aim is therefore to minimise losses of nutrients in the silo and during feed-out. Preventing oxygen from entering the clamp, by using Silostop oxygen barrier film and other Silostop products, is crucial to preserving nutrients and ensuring silage is of good hygienic quality.

A lot of attention is given to harvesting, filling and consolidating the clamp. Often when it comes to the covering, being done at the end of the day, it gets done quicker and not as precisely as it should.

By starting with high quality crops and following these guidelines, the probability of making good quality silage will be increased.

Plan ahead for the Silage Season

Delivering high-quality forage for your ration starts long before you open the clamp. The end of the current season is the time to plan ahead, get it right in the field and focus on quality goals so you and your cows are satisfied when you start feeding next year.

Meet with your agronomist, nutritionist and farm staff to discuss how to make this season a success. The best way to decide how to move ahead is to look back. Reflect on your decisions from the previous growing season and consider the outcomes. Identify what made your silage successful and dive into what could make it better.

Define your goals

Did the forage you fed to your cows achieve the desired results? Was the quality expected and intake maximised? If not why not?

What waste did you have to dispose of? Accepting any amount of spoiled silage on the top and shoulders as ‘just one of those thigs’ and dumping it in the slurry pit is a completely avoidable situation. Aim to feed 100% of the crop you ensile by sealing the clamp properly.

Forage quality

Many different factors influence silage quality. If you have poor-quality silage, your cows will show the effects. Poor yields that have to be boosted by expensive purchased feed will be the biggest issue with low quality silage. The middle of the clamp that has a lot of weight around it will always be the better quality area due to the lack of oxygen post harvest, even this cannot be improved if the crop going in is of a low standard.

Plan ahead for harvest

When you harvested your silage, what stood out as something you wanted to improve? Were there any practices that reduced your silage quality? Addressing those concerns now helps guarantee a smooth harvest later. Build a harvest plan based on your varieties and maturities so you can harvest fields when the time is right.

Book your contractor early in the year to ensure you get them at the right time for your farm not their schedule. Discuss with your preferred supplier the rest of your requirements: additive, sheets etc. Make sure you have more than enough sheets for the sides and top plus good quality covers and gravel bags to have sufficient weight on it.

Throughout the growing season, remember why you developed your plan and keep your goals top of mind as you execute that plan. By bringing your team of experts together and wisely tapping your resources, you’ll stay on track to achieve your ultimate goal: providing the highest-quality silage for your herd.

All of the above points are discussed in more detail if you follow this link to the AHDB website and read the Making grass silage for Better Returns document. Click here

Tim Brewer