Farmers planning to make baled silage should look carefully at the costs involved. A lot of bales have already been made after a jump in grass growth in early April. Have you sat down to do the numbers on the costs of making bales this year?
Starting with bale wrap, the standard 750mm x 1500m roll will cost around €81-€83, including VAT and recycling levy, according to industry sources.
Last year, it was closer to €85, but the fall in oil prices, along with a good rollover supply of round bales from last year, has helped to put downward pressure on prices this season.
If we assume a farmer is putting four layers of plastic on each bale, the plastic cost per bale at this year's prices works out as €2.56 (based on a price of €82 per roll).
This all means that at 2020 plastic prices, the farmer making 300 bales will spend €768 on plastic costs alone.
After this, you have to take into account the cost of hiring a contractor. To bale, wrap, stack and move bales this summer, the Farm Contractors of Ireland is recommending a charge of €11-12/bale plus VAT.
This does not include the cost of the plastic. If the price of bale wrap is included, the total cost will be closer to €14/bale.
At these prices, a farmer making 300 bales will spend €4,200 on baling, wrapping, stacking and moving bales, including the cost of bale wrap.
There are clearly considerable costs involved in making baled silage, so the name of the game is maximising dry matter content to keep bales made per hectare to the minimum.
What do people mean when they talk about making a well-formed bale?
A good round bale should be compact with good dry matter content, have well-formed square corners and have a uniform size across its width. This type of a bale contains the silage well and will be much easier to store and handle. It will also mean less spoilage than a poorly formed loose bale.
Several factors will influence the quality of bale you produce.
Remember to roll any ground that is being closed off for silage. This is an often overlooked, but really important, step as it prevents stones and soil from being incorporated into bales or pits of silage.
Be sure to also remove any metal electric fence posts, which can cause significant damage to silage mowers and chopper balers.
More baler knives and mower blades are replaced due to damage than regular wear and tear.
Adjust swathe shape as you need
The perfect situation is that you have a good, wide swathe of silage in front of the baler. The swathe needs to be as wide or even slightly wider than the baler pick-up reel.
Not only does this have the effect of spreading the silage out for better wilting, but the baler can also be fed more evenly with this swathe than with a high, but sparse swathe.
This will serve to make the bale shape more uniform across its entire width.
Wilting and moisture content
The benefits of wilting are well researched at this stage. Proper moisture content at baling is important to minimise spoilage in storage.
Unless you leave the grass tedded out for 24 hours, there's no point in tedding it out at all. But this requires a good forecast for an extra day, so you need to be careful. What are the extra costs involved? Tedding is quoted at €11-€12/acre by contractors this year. Given the advantage of making higher dry matter bales and less bales per acre, the benefits will be far greater than cost provided wilting is done correctly.
Make sure all maintenance has been performed according to the manufacturer's specifications - you can still get a good deal on maintenance now by ringing your local dealer.
Dealers will be happy to get the work as we are now in the calm before the storm and workshops are operating around the Covid-19 restrictions; there's not much sense in waiting until the last minute to get your silage machinery ready. In particular, examine all belts, chains and other moving parts on round balers.
Set the pick-up as high as possible to minimise wear and damage, but low enough to ensure complete pick-up of the silage. Replace broken or missing tines to prevent neighbouring tines coming under pressure and to ensure a uniform baler feed.
About 85pc of balers sold in Ireland today are of the fixed chamber type. And with fixed chamber units, bale density can only be affected to a limited degree, so you are depending on a good uniform feed into the baler. In a fixed chamber baler, the silage rolls within the chamber until it fills the chamber.
One of the benefits of the fixed baler as opposed to the variable baler is that the fixed machine uses rollers to confine the material, rather than belts in a variable machine, which often require more maintenance.
1 Avoid cutting grass too low as mowers will pick up soil. This could lead to Listeriosis in the silage and subsequent animal health problems.
2 A fast wilt (one night on the ground), where practical, will minimise rain damage and the risk of microbial development in the forage.
3 To achieve a fast wilt, spread grass thinly on the ground as soon as possible after mowing. Prompt tedding is recommended.
4 Using a chopper baler will reduce the number/cost of bales per acre. This will also speed up the baling operation.
5 Using a quality brand of film wrap or net wrap will enable heavy bales to retain their shape and make for easier and quicker wrapping.
6 Heavy wet bales need extra film (two more layers). This adds around 10pc to the overall silage costs, but will certainly pay dividends when it comes to quality of silage.
7 Use a strong and tacky bale wrap film to wrap heavy wet bales - otherwise effluent may leak out or bales could split
8 Try to have a full tank of silage ahead of the baler. This will lead to a square shouldered bale that will keep its shape better.
9 Do not stack heavy or wet bales more than two high, otherwise they lose shape and could burst. Protect bales from bird, small animal and vermin damage.
10 Any damaged bale wrap film should be repaired promptly using suitable silage patches. These bales should be used before any clamp silage is opened.