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Saturday 21 October 2017

There is huge scope to up our game on silage quality

A greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends
A greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends

Gerry Giggins

After spending eight days in China visiting existing and developing beef units, it was great to get back home to Irish food, Irish weather and to see the Louth footballers playing in Croke Park (although the less said about the result, the better).

I spent most of my time in the provinces of Xingiang, Gansu and Qinghai.

For centuries, these were the pastoral regions of China, but with population migration away from rural communities to large urban centres the traditional methods of pasture based beef and lamb production are disappearing rapidly.

The development of large scale, intensive beef units is now widespread and strong levels of financial backing from local government, private investors and investment banks is common.

Despite the mind-blowing levels of investment in infrastructure, imported livestock and machinery, there is a dearth of knowledge in production systems and animal husbandry - something we take for granted here in Ireland.

In the short space of time that I was away, the Irish countryside transformed. Flying into Dublin airport, the green fields were a very welcoming sight.

Teagasc says farm systems requiring higher animal performance stand to benefit from raising silage DMD by at least 6-7 percentage points above this level.
Teagasc says farm systems requiring higher animal performance stand to benefit from raising silage DMD by at least 6-7 percentage points above this level.

The target of mid-May silage harvest will be more than met on many farms this year.

In the latter part of last week, I tested numerous fresh grass samples prior to mowing as an ensilability test.

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Grass dry matters were averaging 21pc with protein levels in excess of 21pc. ADF and NDF levels are low due to the high leaf to stem ratio, while sugar levels have varied hugely depending on the time of day and sunshine levels.

DMD values have all been over 80pc, with these analysis results reinforcing how wondrous the grass plant is in producing a cheap, high quality ruminant feed source.

Where these early cuts are being taken, the biggest issue will surround preservation and stability at feed out. This can be caused by low sugar levels, high nitrogen levels and, unless thoroughly wilted, low dry matters.

In a scenario where any of these factors prevail, I feel that it is essential that a suitable additive be used, especially where high quality forage is the target. When it comes to silage quality, I believe that nationally, there is huge scope to up our game. On any beef farm where reducing feed costs and increasing animal performance is the target, simply refocusing the mind to harvest for quality as opposed to quantity can be a simple solution.

When we contrast the analysis results of fresh grass with those for a typical grass silage, it is clear that the losses in feed value during the ensiling/ fermentation process are quite substantial.

The first part of the ensiling process in the aerobic stage, which can last for up to 24 hours.

During this stage the grass will be starting to 'compost' as the oxygen is used up.

The next stage is the anaerobic stage, when oxygen is eliminated from the clamp and the pH drops from 6.5 to below 4.2.

All the tried and trusted, standard practices of mowing a high sugar, dry grass crop, wilting, avoiding soil contamination, quickly filling the clamp, correct compaction and correct covering procedures will all help to boost palatabilty and nutrition quality of the silage while reducing waste loss.

Having witnessed the fresh grass feed analysis at this time of year it would be great to think that we will be working with a similar product when the pits are opened next winter.

Losses during the fermentation process will more than likely reduce energy and protein densities.

Protein will drop to 15pc-16pc, while DMD should hit 77pc+.

Given our natural advantage in growing grass and our high levels of excellence in grazing techniques, a greater emphasis on making high quality silage would pay huge dividends.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist based in Co Louth


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