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‘It costs just as much to make good quality silage as it does bad quality silage’

Making quality silage: The importance of grazing, fertilising and closing silage ground

Making quality silage is the foundation for success, according to beef and tillage farmer John Phelan.

The Kilkenny native farms a 36-hectare main grazing block, 62-hectares of grass, and 26-hectares of silage ground.

He recently provided an insight into his enterprise on the Beef Edge podcast, presented by Catherine Egan.

“We are buying in roughly 300-350 good continental heifers, age ranging between one-and-a-half to two-year-old. We graze them for a period and then house them roughly around the end of October.”

“They are weighed and penned according to when we think their finishing dates are predicted. Then, roughly speaking, half the stock we buy-in will be finished from the shed, and half will be stored for the winter and go back to grass.”

“It costs just as much to make good quality silage as it does bad quality silage. Finishing cattle is a tricky game at the best of times, so trying to maximise profits, having good quality silage is the key.”

“Most people are aiming for 72% DMD; we are targeting 75%, and hopefully, we can achieve that. For example, our store heifers are on a kilogram of meal with ad-lib silage. They are doing 0.8 kilograms while they are stored over the winter.”

John hopes to close silage ground by March 25th, with a target harvest date of May 10th-15th.

He plans to spread 2,500 gallons of slurry using a trialling shoe on his farm on March 25th. Furthermore, he aims to follow-up 10-days later with 80 units of protected urea and sulphur.

Before he spreads slurry, he walks and rolls the land and only sprays ground for his second-cut.

Target dates

During the podcast, Teagasc drystock advisor, Terry Carroll, encourages farmers to ask themselves what quality of silage they want to have next winter.

If they wish to have top-quality silage like John from 75-85% DMD, they should set key target dates.

“If you aim to cut around May 15th; you would want to close around March 20-25th. It is easy enough to make quality silage at any stage of the year if you take light crops.”

“We and trying to get quantity as well as quality in what is an expensive crop to make. We want a high-yield of super quality silage and, that is why we are encouraging farmers to close at that date and aim to cut by May 12-20th.”

“March people have got out grazing this week and last week with stock. We would be absolutely grazing aiming to graze silage ground before we close it.”

“Graze that get off it by March 20th put out your bag fertiliser. Leave it for seven weeks. If you close it on March 25th, you have eight weeks up to May 20th, which is more than enough to grow a crop.”

Applying fertiliser

Terry considers slurry the first fertiliser to apply, and he believes it is a “super” source of P and K.

“For every 1,000 gallons of slurry per acre, there is going 10-11 units of nitrogen. A good rye-grass sward, maybe reseeded in the last few years, require 125 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare.”

“Balance the nitrogen you are applying with slurry and from the bag. Some people would split the bag nitrogen. There is not anything wrong with splitting it or putting it all out together.”

“Get your P and Ks correct via slurry or compound fertiliser. Your nitrogen then level will be dictated by the quality, freshness and rye-grass content of your sward.”

Correct quantity

Terry confirms that K is the one nutrient that gets depleted quickly in silage.

“You cannot do the build-up and requirement for the crop in on the application. A good 70-75 units of K is typically enough. If you are very low, you will have to replenish after the crop.”

“P units than typically could be 15-25 units per acre. For N 80-units on an old sword and a strong 100-units on a rye-grass sward,” Terry concluded.

Further information

You can listen to this episode of the Beef Edge podcast here.

For more farming tips and advice, click here.

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