Make silage at 72pc DM or more
Experience on most moderately stocked sheep farms is that grass supply is tight and growth rates are still behind normal for this time of year. Hopefully, milder weather will soon arrive and grass growth will take off. Given the very long winter, coupled with poor spring growth, many farmers have completely exhausted their winter feed supplies. Therefore, it is now time to start planning to replenish winter feed reserves.
Last week I said that where grass supply is tight, it is a good idea to delay closing up silage ground until growth rates pick up. This still holds true. Ewes rearing lambs take precedence over winter fodder at this time of year. But it is not uncommon to see grass growth rates in late May hitting 100kg DM/ day/ha. At these growth rates, a famine can quickly turn into a feast in a few days. Therefore, it is important to be ready to close up for silage or take out a few paddocks when the need arises.
Grazed grass is the cheapest feed available to every sheep farmer. The challenge is to be able to manage that grass to keep it leafy and digestible. Conserving winter forage not only plays an important role in terms of providing feed for stock, but it is also an important tool in controlling grass surpluses and maintaining sward quality over the grazing season.
As a general rule, sheep do not need lots of silage. A 70kg ewe will eat around 1kg of forage DM/day. That's the equivalent of 4-5kg/hd/day of silage (fresh weight) or 150kg a month.
When compared to cattle, sheep only need a relatively small amount of silage. For this reason it should be possible to cut the crop relatively early rather than having to wait for it to bulk up. The quality of silage offered to ewes influences a ewe's intake characteristics and the amount of concentrate supplementation that is required.
The aim should be to make silage that is 72pc DM or better. So the crop should not be growing for longer than six weeks.
Make enough winter fodder so ewes can be confined or housed when grass runs out.
Every year I meet sheep farmers who don't have enough grass at turnout in the spring because ewes were not housed in time. Often this happens because there isn't enough hay or silage made. To have enough grass at turnout, pastures need a minimum 120-day rest period. For this to happen, sufficient winter feed needs to be available to allow sheep to be housed when the time is appropriate.