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Quality silage requires careful planning

Silage is one of the main sources of feed on farms over the winter period, however its quality is extremely variable across the country. Over the last number of years, a greater focus has been placed on grazed grass, with less effort going into ensuring we maximise the potential of our silage. Poor quality silage can heavily impact on animal health and performance, which can lead to significant costs for the farmer.

Silage is one of the main sources of feed on farms over the winter period, however its quality is extremely variable across the country. Over the last number of years, a greater focus has been placed on grazed grass, with less effort going into ensuring we maximise the potential of our silage. Poor quality silage can heavily impact on animal health and performance, which can lead to significant costs for the farmer.

However, through a number of key factors, farmers can significantly influence the quality of their resultant feed.

While there is not much we can do to see the benefits in 2019 of the longer term factors that impact quality silage, it is worth noting such factors; especially if reseeding this spring. Ensuring the right species are in the sward will have a significant impact on silage quality. Perennial ryegrass dominant swards will have superior digestibility, are relatively straightforward to preserve and are an essential long term investment.

  • Avoid soil compaction during silage making, slurry and fertiliser spreading, grazing etc., as this can reduce yield and persistency of perennial ryegrass.
  • Take regular soil samples to ensure correct soil pH, Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) status. Deficiencies of soil P, K and/or pH are the main cause of poor quality silage on many farms.
  • When selecting mixtures for reseeding silage ground, consider varieties which perform well on the Recommended List and on the Teagasc Pasture Profit Index (PPI) list. AberClyde, AberMagic, Dunluce and Seagoe have excellent performance overall on the PPI list, but also perform well on the silage sub–indices.


Preparation for 2019 silage harvesting

It is important to begin setting up your silage paddocks now.

  • Grazing them tightly at this stage will help minimise the amount of low–quality dead and stem material present in the sward when cutting time approaches. A dead butt can substantially drop digestibility by 5–6 % units in May.
  • Controlling weeds such as docks is an important aspect to maximise the quality of your silage. If there are a lot of weeds present, they will significantly reduce the digestibility of the silage.
  • Planning your fertiliser applications is also crucial. Many silage fields are low in P and K due to the high quantities of herbage removed year on year, with little nutrient returns in the form of dung and urine, compared to grazing fields. Applying the correct quantities of Nitrogen (N) and K in particular, are essential in order to maximise your silage yield and quality this year.
  • Avoid excess input of N, whether it is from an inorganic fertiliser (e.g. urea or CAN), slurry or both, as this can predispose well advanced, heavy–yielding silage crops to lodging if weather conditions turn wet and windy. A lodged crop lying in continuously wet conditions can lose up to 9 percentage units digestibility in a week, compared to the normal expected loss of 2 to 3 percentage units.
  • A total of no more than 110 – 125kg N/ha, from the combined contributions of inorganic fertiliser and slurry should be applied. High or late application of N from inorganic fertiliser and/or slurry can greatly reduce grass sugar concentration and increase buffering capacity, thereby making it more difficult to preserve the silage. Similarly, late or uneven application of slurry that leaves the grass contaminated at harvest time makes the silage quite difficult to preserve.


There are many short term factors to be considered when it comes to cutting time and preservation, however we will address this topic in a later edition and as we approach harvest date.

Silage

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