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Planning is key to making silage pay

IT was 10 years ago when Andrew Revington made terrible silage. "It was brutal stuff, really low DMD (dry matter digestibility) and my cows suffered on it with acidosis and all kinds of problems. I had to get a nutritionist in to try to fix things up, but I swore then that I would never get caught like that again," he recalls.

The weather was Revington's downfall that year, having followed the traditional practice on the farm of waiting for the crop to bulk up. A prolonged spell of poor weather resulted in poor dry matter (DM) in a silage that was already declining in digestibility as the weeks slipped by.

It is an experience that thousands of farmers around the country will be only too familiar with after the year that has just been.

The difference now, though, is that Revington has managed to make award-winning silage every year for the last five – and that includes last year when his silage analysed an impressive 82DMD, 25pc DM and 17 crude protein.

"There was one farmer who was in the North East Holstein Friesian Breeders' Club who was winning the silage competition every year – Paddy Jordan, from just down the road here in Kilskyre," says Revington.

"I still ring him up for advice and I remember well the first time I asked him to come over to give me a bit of advice. I'd say it was early May, and I must have been away from the farm, so he rang me.

"Get this f***ing grass cut! It's just right – I know by the feel of it under my feet. And the forecast's gonna break," he told me down the phone.

"I used to think that Paddy was mad to go out to cut 6t/ac at the beginning of May or even at the end of April. Now I suppose the neighbours think the same of me," says a chuckling Revington.

"Now weather is the big determinant instead of yield. I'll sacrifice yield if I think it'll improve quality. So I'll never look at a field and say that needs another week to bulk up.

"My main source of weather info is through the smartphone ... and what it looks like outside.

"I've also had to increase the amount of reseeding that I do. We're probably doing about 10-15pc of the farm a year, but to be honest it would probably be even better if we moved up to 20pc annually.

"I go with the recommended varieties from the local grass-seed supplier here, McGuinness. I only include clover in the grazing pastures and go for a late-heading variety in general. Not a huge long list of varieties in the mix but a fair amount of tetraploids."

"I will only make bales if grass is getting ahead of me in a few paddocks," adds Revington. "I hate making them because they are much more expensive and labour intensive.

"We're going to be using a new contractor this year for the first time in about 10 years. It's not because I had a problem with the guy I was working with. He has actually packed in cutting silage because he said that he just can't get paid for the work.

"I think that contractors really don't get paid enough for making silage.

"I actually got a lot of calls from other contractors looking for the work but I wanted to go with a guy that was local and not too busy with sowing maize or looking after other guys in the area that would be cutting at a similar time as myself. I'm paying about €75/ac plus VAT this year, which covers everything but pushing up in the pit.

"I'm not overly concerned about what time in the day we start mowing since I know the sugars are going to be good in grass at that stage of the year anyway. Similarly with nitrogen, I know that a good wilt will sort this out too."

Revington concluded: "Another thing that I never concern myself with is whether the grass is going to be too dry. I reckon that's impossible at this time of year.

"I love to feel it sticking to my hand by the time it comes into the pit and it should end up like moist tobacco leaf in the pit."

Irish Independent