Farm Ireland

Monday 21 January 2019

Cutting edge silage advice for farmers planning to hit their silage target


James Keane, Teagasc Regional Manager, speaking at the Silage 75 event on John Quinn's farm in Cloone, Co Leitrim. Photo: Brian Farrell
James Keane, Teagasc Regional Manager, speaking at the Silage 75 event on John Quinn's farm in Cloone, Co Leitrim. Photo: Brian Farrell

Tom Coll

In response to the fodder crisis in the north-west, Teagasc teamed up with Aurivo Co-op for a series of farm walks in Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal earlier this month. The walks encouraged farmers to take action now to ensure they have adequate fodder supplies for 2018.

Over 350 farmers attended the 'Silage 75' events which outlined simple steps to maximise this year's silage crop.

How much nitrogen to spread on silage ground?

Apply a minimum of 75 units of bag nitrogen with the required amount of P and K and sulphur based on soil sample results to grow the crop replace off take and allow for build up.

This will ensure that adequate bulk is there for harvesting when the grass is at the ideal stage for cutting and to maximise quality.

Applying 50-60 units of nitrogen for first cut silage and waiting for the crop to bulk up and harvesting from mid to late June results poor quality stemmy silage with a DMD in the low 60s. Additional concentrate feeding will be required to achieve target performance in all categories of livestock.

Read also: Fertilising silage ground: 'Cheaper Cut Sward' sounds like a great deal - but is it?

When should you have silage harvested?

Aim to have 75pc of the main cut harvested by the end of May to ensure high quality silage with a large percentage of leaf as the grass will not have headed out at this stage.

Early cutting will also allow for additional land being available for grazing from June onwards, faster regrowths and allow for second cuts where required.

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Over the past 10 years the best period weather wise for making silage has consistently been from about May 25 to June 5.

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Whats the target DMD for silage?

75 DMD is the target which all farmers should be aiming for.

Silage is not a cheap crop to make especially in the form of round bales. Making high DMD silage can dramatically reduce concentrate usage on farms.

The table outlines the concentrate requirements for weanlings being fed silages of varying quality. 75DMD silage can deliver 0.6kgs weight gain per day in weanlings over the winter period without the requirement for additional concentrate feeding.

The main factors that influence the decline in DMD are outlined in the table. Delayed harvesting, low percentage of ryegrass in the sward, dead leaf at the base of the sward and the crop lodging can quickly reduce a potential 75 DMD crop to low 60's over a relatively short period of time.

Read also: Beef farmers need to get serious about silage quality problems

Spreading slurry after cutting silage

Aim to spread 75pc of slurry directly after silage cutting to replace some of the offtake of P and K removed by harvesting. Slurry should of course be spread as early as possible in the year to take advantage of the N, P and K supply. Ground conditions don't always allow for early application of slurry and are normally at their best after cutting. In the last few years farmers who waited to spread slurry later on in the year faced issues with ground trafficability.

Savings of up to €75 per livestock unit can be achieved by feeding top quality silage rather than concentrates or poor quality silage.

Around 300kgs of concentrates valued at €250 per tonne for every livestock unit of cattle on the farm can be eliminated when silage is 75DMD.

75 DMD silage is too good for dry cows but can be restricted thus reducing the amount of silage required over winter period.

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The amount of concentrates required by ewes pre-lambing can be reduced by up to 25kgs per ewe by making silage which is 75DMD or higher which results in a saving of €7.50 per ewe or €75 for every ewe 10 ewes on the farm.

"We are very aware of the current fodder issues that exist on farm but farmers need to take action now to prepare for next winter," said Vincent Griffith, Aurivo farm profitability programme manager.

"Applying an extra bag of nitrogen to bring total N applied to 80-90units as soon as ground conditions allow - and where lime P and K status is correct - will allow farmers to yield a crop of 10 bales per acre of wilted silage before the end of May. Lime is critical to achieve a soil pH of 6.3 so that the bank of N, P and K in the soil is available to the plant for maximum growth to occur."

Tom Coll is a Teagasc dry stock advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim email:

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