In this article, CAFRE’s Richard Gibson explains why making quality forage is more important than ever this year. He discusses the ins and outs of a multi-cut silage system.
With the significant rise in forage costs this year, making the best quality silage possible is vital.
Focusing on cut and wilt times will help boost quality and reduce dependence on concentrates through the winter.
Adopting a multi-cut silage system could help maximise quality and performance. Although cutting earlier reduces the yield per cut, quality in terms of protein, digestibility, and metabolisable energy (ME) will increase.
The increased cost of making multi-cut silage, which is estimated at £35 per tonne dry matter (DM) higher than a three-cut system, must be recouped with concentrate savings.
At £350/t for purchased concentrate, concentrate rates would need to be reduced by 1.2 kg per cow per day to achieve this.
Rapid wilting is essential. As soon as grass is cut, sugars start to decline as the plant uses them. Wilting increases dry matter and reduces clamp losses from effluent.
After cutting, there is a two-hour window when the plant’s stomata remain open. Water loss is at its greatest at approximately 100 litres per tonne of grass per hour.
After that, water is lost where the leaves are broken or the crop has been conditioned, if you have used a conditioner.
- Individual cuts will be lighter than the traditional system. It is worthwhile discussing this with your contractor in terms of pricing.
- However, a 1.0 MJ per kg DM increase in ME is generally achievable when moving from a traditional to multi-cut strategy. DM intakes can increase by over 1.0 kg per cow per day when feeding this forage.
- Pay special attention to crop nutrition to ensure all nitrogen is absorbed before harvesting. Apply slurry immediately after harvesting.
- Apply fertiliser as soon as possible and not more than two units per acre (including slurry) for each growing day between cuts.
- As crops are lighter, consider the time the crop is wilted. To achieve 28-32% in ideal weather conditions, 24 hours wilting should be sufficient.
- Silos need to be filled quickly and grass distributed evenly. The key is to remove the air and make the clamp as airtight as possible.
- Spread the grass in shallow layers and roll continuously. Ideally, the silo should be covered immediately, and the cover weighted effectively, paying particular attention to the shoulders of the pit.
- Increasing the chop length to 5 cm will help with ensiling and fermentation.
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