According to Volac, farmers looking to make better silage in 2022 to reduce reliance on bought-in feeds should start planning now.
Volac silage specialist, Ken Stroud, has urged farmers to allow time for appropriate actions and has constructed a timely five-point plan.
He advises farmers to:
- Review your silage analysis;
- Communicate with your contractor;
- Prepare the clamp;
- Have materials ready;
- Have a ‘Plan B’.
Review your silage analysis
Begin by examining the analysis of your 2021 silage. Ask yourself: Did it turn out as well as expected? Or are there areas for improvement?
Stroud explained: “If metabolisable energy (ME) is low, swards may have deteriorated to include less nutritious grasses, making some reseeding necessary. Alternatively, the way you make silage may need attention.”
He advises that this could mean cutting grass younger. While it is more digestible, you could wilt faster to minimise in-field energy losses, or improve fermentation so that energy is conserved better in the clamp.
He said the average ME of UK silage has been “static” at about 10.6 for years. He advises that farmers should aim for an “absolute minimum” of 11.
Communicate with your contractor
If using a contractor for silaging, Mr Stroud says early, and regular communication with them is “key”.
For good silage, grass needs mowing and harvesting at its nutritional peak, not a week or fortnight later. According to the expert, after heading, grass digestibility falls by about 0.5% a day.
“Understand your contractor’s time constraints and inform them of yours. If you are making changes – for example cutting earlier because you are moving to multi-cut silage – they need to know. It is amazing how many farmers call contractors at the last minute.”
“If making silage yourself, ensure all machines are fully working and serviced. The aim is to minimise quality-reducing delays.”
Prepare the clamp
As the ‘storage container’ for your silage for at least six months, do not let the condition of your clamp undo all the hard work put into other areas of silage-making, he advises.
“Many farms had problems with silage heating in 2021, which happens when air gets in and allows the growth of yeast and mould. Some of this was because silage was made too dry.”
“But, I have seen cases where weak walls prevented clamps being consolidated to the edges, leaving air gaps.”
As well as cleaning clamps, repair walls to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Have materials ready
Do not compromise quality or quantity by getting to harvest and finding you have not got all the necessary materials for good preservation, Stroud advises.
Start by ensuring you have enough of the correct additive, he adds.
“The final few grass loads on top of the clamp are the most vulnerable to spoilage. Yet, these will be the ones left untreated if additive is short.”
“If making silage up to 30% dry matter (DM), look for an additive to improve fermentation. For drier or more fibrous silage where heating is a concern, consider a dual-acting additive.”
“Similarly, ensure you have enough sheeting to keep the clamp airtight, not just for the top but also for lining the walls.”
Have a plan B
Stroud advises farmers to map out everything they require for good silage, says Mr Stroud.
However, he advises them to have a ‘plan B’ in case something changes. For example, the weather can be “notoriously fickle”, he notes.
“If it turns wet, be prepared to set the harvester to chop grass longer to stop clamp slippage.”
“If it is dry, you may need to chop shorter, so it is easier to compact. Remember, grass could be 30% DM when you start harvesting, but 35% DM once the sun has been on it longer. Again, this could affect the last few loads on top of the clamp.”
“Similarly, have a plan B if it looks like you will be short of silage: this could include ensiling some cereal as wholecrop.”
“Even if you end up with plenty of silage later, you will be better off because you will have carryover stock for the future,” he concluded.
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