Cut early, cut often - The better-quality silage from an early cut will save farmers money and give them a headstart on cutting meal bills


Farmer testing the silage crop
Farmer testing the silage crop

'If you have the opportunity to go out now and make good-quality silage, then do it. Don't wait until the first week of June just because you've always done it then. It is worth going a week or 10 days early if you can."

This was the clear advice from Tom Coll, Teagasc's business and technology advisor for drystock, at a walk on the farm of Gerry McCartin near Ballinamore, Co Leitrim last week.

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Mr Coll was addressing some 100 farmers at the walk which was part of Aurivo and Teagasc's 'Silage75' series, which aims to get farmers, particularly in the west of Ireland, making better-quality silage.

The key to this, according to Teagasc, is targeting the early cutting of the grass.

Paying in advance farmers can save €500 on 50 acres of silage
Paying in advance farmers can save €500 on 50 acres of silage

Mr Coll said farmers are often concerned that they will have fewer bales by cutting earlier than usual, but he advised them that better silage means cost savings elsewhere.

"You might have fewer bales with earlier-cut silage but it's better quality and the cattle will eat less," he said.

"You'll also have savings from cattle not needing as much, or any, meal."

Coll also said targeting the quality silage to the correct animals is important.

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"By having that 75pc dry matter digestibility (DMD) silage you will be able to feed the cow with less body condition loss to get her back in calf quickly," he said.

"(The good silage) needs to go to cows feeding calves and weanlings so they can do that 0.6kg to 0.7kg per day (of growth) on silage alone without having to feed meal or concentrates.

Can you afford not to grow an extra tonne of grass?
Can you afford not to grow an extra tonne of grass?

"The difference between 65pc DMD silage and 75pc DMD is the equivalent saving of €75 per livestock unit on a cattle farm or €75 for every 10 ewes.

"It's such a big expense for farmers between silage wrap, netting and contractors that you have to get it right. It makes no sense making bad silage."

Reseeding is vital

Host farmer Gerry McCartin explained how he has moved his silage cutting date back from June to mid-May. He said reseeding has been important in this strategy.

"We burned off this field here before the second cut on August 14 last year. We went in with the 2½ tonne of lime (per acre), it got the seed and three bags (to the acre) of 10:10:20… the sheep then grazed it off," he said.

If yields are reasonable, don’t delay cutting silage.
If yields are reasonable, don’t delay cutting silage.

"Then in March we spread three bags (per acre) of 18:6:12 and followed up two weeks later with two bags (per acre) of Nitrogen. It didn't get slurry.

"The reseeding is important for getting new grass going.

"If you have made good early silage and you have to bring the cattle in for a week if the weather turns bad, then they're not losing out on that quality either."

In terms of reseeding, Mr Coll added that getting the grass to take the first year is "the easy part"; the hard part is making sure the grass quality is there in subsequent years.

Mr McCartin said he cuts the grass and lets it have 24 hours of wilting before local contractor John O'Connell gives it a run of the wuffler to shake up the grass before baling it.

Mr McCartin runs a 30-cow suckler herd with the majority of the herd from Limousin breeding. He sells the weanlings at nine or 10 months of age.

Bird threat

Cutting early and making top-quality silage will all be for nothing unless due care is given to the transportation and stacking of the bales, local Teagasc advisor Alistair Pollock warned.

Mr Pollock said farmers should, ideally, wrap their bales in the field and not in a yard.

He added that the biggest threat while stacking bales is birds. He advised farmers to take preventative measures.

Referencing a report written in Teagasc's Grange facility, Pollock said the best way to keep birds off stacked bales is by using netting.

"Some people are using an 'X' on the bales or drawing an eye or putting up two- metre lines, netting or balloons," he said.

"But the research out of Grange shows that the 'X' on the bales doesn't work - in fact it's a bit of landing point for birds.

"The birds are actually attracted to the 'X'. The netting has been proven to work well."

Aurivo's nutritionist Justin McDonagh gave practical advice around the need for making good silage.

"Poor-quality silage is like a bad foundation in a house… it's the basis of the diet for so long in the year, it's important to get it right," he said.

He advised farmers to cut grass and make sure it gets a "rapid wilt" over 24 hours rather than letting it sit for a couple of days.

He added that a good eight of wilting gives you an extra 3pc or 4pc of sugars in the crop.


5 tips for quality silage

Budget: Know how much silage you need for the winter ahead;

Cut early: You have a better quality silage with the target of 75pc DMD. Cut before 50pc of the grass seed has headed out;

Spread early: Target 75pc of slurry application immediately after the first cut;

Stack correctly: Quality grass silage is irrelevant if you don't take care stacking;

Target animals: Your best-quality silage should be fed to cows feeding calves and growing youngstock.

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