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Guide 20
Guide 2017
de 2017
Noel McGrath
Insulate your farm against price volatility with
good silage
We all know the benefits of good silage, but are we really all doing everything we can to produce it? If you want to help
insulate your farm business against ups and downs in milk or meat prices, or feed costs, there's a straightforward approach
Maximise the amount of milk or meat produced from home-
grown forage. Home-grown forage is, arguably, one of a
livestock farm's biggest assets. So, it makes sense to get the
most from it whether from grazing or silage. Making sure you
produce the best possible silage requires attention to detail at
every stage.
To begin with, clean clamps are essential. Remove old silage
and pressure-wash the clamp, including the area in front of it,
to minimise transfer of any undesirable bacteria and fungi to
this year's fresh silage. Repair any cracks, and line the walls
with polythene, allowing plenty for overlapping sheets.
From experience, you should know your target harvest date.
So, make sure sheeting and additive are ordered in time, and
schedule your contractor if you use one.
If you do your own harvesting, ensure all machinery is working
and serviced including that the additive applicator is clean
and working properly. At harvest, use of the correct chop
length for the forage's dry matter is crucial to produce good
silage. So, ensure that harvester blades are sharp and can be
set up to achieve this. Prior to harvest, any slurry and nitrogen
(N) fertiliser issues should also be addressed.
If bagged N has been applied but hasn't all been taken up by
the plant, it can lead to excess nitrates in the crop, particularly
if high rainfall just before cutting stimulates sudden uptake.
The problem with a high nitrate content in the plant is it results
in less sugar being available, and sugar is needed for a good
fermentation to preserve silage. If in doubt, have your grass
Similarly, residual slurry on the crop at cutting acts as a
source of bad bacteria, such as clostridia and enterobacteria,
which also increase the risk of a poor fermentation. So, avoid
spreading slurry too close to the cutting date, and check
the crop before cutting to ensure no residual slurry remains,
especially if there hasn't been much rain.
If you are concerned about fertiliser or slurry issues, then
ensuring that grass is wilted to above 30 per cent dry matter and
using an additive can both reduce the risk of a poor fermentation.
Once grass is at the correct growth stage, the aim should be
to cut when the weather will allow you to wilt as quickly as
possible to a target dry matter (DM) of 25-30 per cent. Rapid
wilting helps to minimise loss of sugars, and cutting when
there will be warm, breezy conditions is ideal. Using a mower-
conditioner and spreading grass will also reduce wilting
time. Also at harvest, choosing a proven additive is hugely
Clearly, an additive that's shown to improve fermentation is
important. But you also want to know that it can ultimately
produce better silage and that treated silage will give a
livestock benefit when fed.
Ecosyl contains a specially-selected MTD/1 strain of beneficial
Lactobacillus plantarum bacteria. There are numerous trials
showing that treating with it hasn't just improved fermentation,
it also improved conservation of dry matter, and gave better
preservation of feed quality.
Importantly, results from 15 dairy trials have also shown an
average milk yield increase of 1.2L per cow per day. These
trials were conducted around the world and on several crops.
Continuing this joined-up ensiling process, it is essential the
clamp is filled correctly achieving a good consolidation to
squeeze out all the air. Fermentation occurs when some of
the crop's sugars are converted to acid by beneficial bacteria
to e ectively pickle the forage. Hence, the reason for adding
extra bacteria with a proven additive. Howeve,r e cient
fermentation requires the absence of air.
Achieving air-free conditions also stops undesirable yeasts
multiplying in the silage that cause it to heat up at feed out.
Once you've achieved a good consolation, it's essential to
seal the clamp e ectively, to prevent further ingress of air.
Attention to detail at every stage of silage-making can make
a big di erence to the silage quality and quantity you have
available to feed for the coming winter and potentially have a
big benefit for your farm's bottom line.