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Updated: Jun 1, 2020

The decision to lock up paddocks for fodder conservation is right on our doorstep, but should we be planning for hay or silage?

Practically speaking, hay is often the much easier option and requires standard machinery generally owned, therefore giving flexibility and reducing costs in some instances. Hay can be made from most forages such as Lucerne, vetch, ryegrass or pasture mixes, cereals and a few other crops. Once cut and dried, it can be bailed up and quite easily stored and relocated as needed and used immediately.

Quality hay is generally around 89% dry matter and generally in excess of 50% NDF (cereal & grass), with cereal in a regular season sitting between 55-60% NDF and energy 8-9 ME.

The 2018 harvest was special, in that it brought through some excellent quality cereal hays with NDF (low 50s), high energy (10 ME) and high sugars (15% +) where growth and production goals were realised, meaning we can have great quality cereal! Cereals have fantastic bulk and are easy to manage, however they are low in protein, 10-11% where we are generally chasing 11-16% protein in beef and sheep diets. This is where protein hays and good quality pasture hay adds value, but it can easily be left too long standing or on the ground and quality significantly declines.

The Pro's:

• Less margin for error when cutting, remember to cut early and chase quality

• Can be fed immediately to all classes of stock

• Lower harvesting cost

• Can be easily relocated

The Con’s :

• Potentially higher NDF compared to silage

• Longer drying time, increased risk of mould and therefore quality loss

So what about silage?

The greatest benefit of silage is when we have the opportunity for multiple cuts from the same paddock, it doesn’t need the drying time of hays and therefore can be cut, bailed/stacked and stored within a couple of days and the pasture or crop can begin growing again.

Silage has the potential to yield great quality feed that is closer in relation to grass than hay is, with dry matters 35-45% depending on species, energy 9-9.5 and NDF 45-55 percent for well conserved forage.

Ideal varieties for ensiling include cereal crops and pasture grasses.

The Pro’s :

• Can be high quality, therefore increased energy and intake potential

• Opportunity for more cuts from the same paddock

• Can have greater protein retained

The Con’s :

• Different machinery required

• Higher cost

• If done poorly can spoil

• Cannot be moved easily: build the stack/leave the bales close to feed out area. Once baled, each time silage is relocated, oxygen enters and increases spoilage (Not a problem if relocating to feed out that day).

• Not recommended to fully feed young animals

Both have a valuable role in feeding livestock, ideally a combination of both with a mixture of cereal and protein varieties is ideal to meet requirements though different times of the year.

For more information on your fodder conservation options including a comparative run down on the nutritional values of the average Silage and Hay options this spring, please click the link below...

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