Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

Give some attention to next winter's fodder demands

Liam Fitzgerald

The past winter isn't quite over -- certainly not after last week -- yet we need to give attention to next winter's fodder requirements. Following three very difficult grazing seasons, one would wonder if you need silage for the summer as well as the winter.

Past experience showed the value of having a small amount of silage in reserve to feed in very wet weather if cattle had to be housed. Having enough silage gives peace of mind and flexibility with grazing management in difficult conditions.

But surplus silage does not mean you forget about early grass or you keep stock inside until all the silage is used up. This has not been a good year for early grass, with growth up to three weeks behind normal but it is likely to be unusual, perhaps in one year out of 10.

Even this year there was reasonable grass cover by February on land that was closed since late October and it provided good grazing in late February and early March, thereby allowing limited numbers of cattle to be turned out and giving a corresponding saving on silage and feed costs. Keep the focus on grazed grass and early turnout. It is often easier to graze fields in February than in April.

How much silage?

I suspect not many farmers do a feed budget by setting out on paper how many stock and of what weight they will be for the winter months and then deciding how many hectares need to be closed for first cut and second cut (if a second cut is needed).

Table 1, above, shows the requirement per month for different categories of stock.

Suckler cows with calves at foot need high-quality silage fed to appetite or moderate quality silage plus 2kg meal per day, at least up to mating.

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In addition to the silage, it is normal to feed 1-2kg meal/day to weanlings. Requirements are best calculated on a monthly basis to allow for differences in the length of the winter throughout the country and for the sale or purchase of stock during the winter.

Having calculated the total silage requirement, then decide on the area of land you need to close. A good first cut will yield 25t of settled silage/hectare (10t/ac). Most drystock farmers should be able to get all their silage in one cut. Any shortfall can be made up with a small second cut on bales taken when there is surplus summer grass. Farmers should aim to close for first-cut silage this week, except where there is still a butt of old grass left over from the winter. This should be grazed out quickly before closing; otherwise it will reduce the digestibility of the silage by 3-4 units of DMD. Where grass is scarce it may be necessary to graze some of the silage ground.

Grazing into the third week of April reduces silage yield by about 25pc on June 1. The option then is to have two harvesting dates, taking the main cut at the end of May or early June and a later cut from the delayed closed area about 2-3 weeks later. Baled silage is very convenient for feeding when only a small number of stock is housed or during periods of wet weather. It avoids opening a pit for a small quantity of silage and so avoids spoilage due to slow movement of the pit face.

Slurry is well balanced in phosphorus and potassium for silage. An application of 3,000gal/acre supplies enough P and K for one cut. If spread in cool, damp conditions, 3,000gal also supplies about 30 units of nitrogen. This allows the chemical nitrogen to be reduced to 60-70 units/acre. Slurry should only be spread on bare ground and not later than the first week of April.

Irish Independent