Updated: Jun 1
It almost seems too soon to want to think about, but the time is approaching to consider which paddocks will be locked up for silage ready for that first cut in spring.
Silage is an excellent tool for filling in summer feed gaps, making use of excess grass grown in spring and reducing purchased fodder costs, when done right.
There are two main areas that impact growth, reproduction and profitability, firstly we look at transition protocol and smoothly introducing livestock from one feed source to the new type, the second is overall quality of the feed. We often get asked how to reduce grain use through summer and keep daily gains up – the trick is higher quality forage. The more energy and protein packed into their fodder; less is required through grain.
Chasing quality instead of bulk results in a more consistent body condition score to be maintained coming out of spring, this leads to better fertility, better calf or lamb rearing for summer groups and much greater post weaning growth. A young, growing animal requires upwards of 16% crude protein. Dry standing feed, cereal hay and mature cut silage sit around 5-13% protein, meaning additional protein (and energy) is needed to be fed or genetic potential isn’t getting realized.
Late cut silage can result in high NDF (or fill factor when feeding ruminants), meaning less can be consumed therefore less energy and less protein. The trade-off of chasing quality is that you will have a little less total feed, this can be managed by doing a simple fodder budget by calculating out your expected harvest (inc. shrinkage and wastage) and matching it to the number of animals you will need to feed.
In the long run, it is more cost effective to top up with a cheaper poorer quality forage than lost growth, fertility and lambs on the ground come Autumn.
What makes good silage?
Cut early, chase quality not bulk. Remember, poor quality forage cut, won’t improve once bailed/stacked and will result in even poorer quality coming out.
Do everything in your power to squeeze out the oxygen! If making a pit or stack, continuously roll over it to compress it for each layer. A quote from a chat with an American farmer “when you think you are finished rolling, add another 2 hours minimum”.
Cover/wrap thoroughly to reduce oxygen going in after the hard work getting it out.
Keep covered for minimum 6 weeks to allow the fermentation process to complete.
Remember to send in a sample for an A1 NIR to Forage Lab Australia once fermentation is complete to get a thorough analysis on quality, protein degradation and silage acids to understand how the silage process went to improve on in future years and balance the ration accordingly. Recheck Dry Matter percentage regularly on farm, particularly as you move through stacks to always maintain consistency of intake.
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