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29 June 2018

Maximising Yield of Quality Grass Silage for 2018

Posted By: AIB Business

The extended indoor feeding period and emergence of regional forage shortages last Spring has led to renewed focus on making adequate silage reserves for this season reports Martina Gormley, Teagasc. Farmers will have to plan carefully to ensure that stocks of adequate quality silage are secured across the summer.

Step 1: A plan to maximise silage yield from own land resources - Fertiliser plan

This year it is essential to maximize yield potential from second cut silage. Aim for a high yielding second cut taken out by 1st August at the latest. This will mean closing area and applying adequate fertilizer to bulk the crop.

Fertiliser requirements for 2nd cut silage (Source: Teagasc)

  • Soil Index 1: 30kg P/ha; 70kg K/ha; 100kg N/ha
  • Soil Index 2: 20kg P/ha; 50kg K/ha; 100kg N/ha
  • Soil Index 3: 10kg P/ha; 35kg K/ha; 100kg N/ha
  • Soil Index 4: 100kg N/ha

Inadequate P & K often results in delayed cutting due to slow growth, resulting in poor DMD and yield. Grass silage crops also have a requirement of 20kg S/ha per cut. If second cuts are well managed and cut in time, there will be a good opportunity to build autumn grass or indeed take a limited 3rd silage cut on some farms. These will all help to build fodder reserves.

Step 2: A plan to potentially reduce demand by offloading stock

The question must be asked as to whether it makes economic sense to be buying forage to feed late calving cows, problem cows and high SCC cows. These animals produce much less than the herd average milk solids for the year, so the cash margin over feed costs for these individual animals will likely be lower than what is expected.

Forage DM required for a May calving cow from calving until different selling dates (Source: Teagasc)

  • Cull early Sept: 1,870kg forage DM / 8.5 surplus bales equivalent
  • Cull late Oct: 2,750kg forage DM / 12 surplus bales equivalent
  • Cull mid-Dec: 3,300kg forage DM / 15 surplus bales equivalent
  • Annual forage total: 4,900kg forage DM / 22 surplus bales equivalent

For a farm already in forage deficit, retaining five such animals from calving until mid-October will increase purchased forage demand by around 60 bales next winter. The purchased forage cost of keeping these extra 5 cows for the year is 110 purchased bales. Depending on stocking rate, total concentrate input per cow in the herd is likely to rise also as more grass deficits will arise. The cash cost of feeding such surplus cows is estimated at €900 to €1000 per annum, before overheads are accounted for.

Step 3: A plan to make up remaining deficits by securing external feed sources

If there is still a deficit after spreading the correct fertiliser and reducing demand from unproductive stock then the next step is to look at securing external feed sources. These feed sources normally include; maize, whole crop, standing crops, renting silage ground, buying standing crops, fodder beet, kale, beet pulp and soya hulls. You must have at least 60% of silage requirements before non-forage crops/concentrates can be used as an option to stretch silage.

There is more than just the cost to consider when deciding on the best option to choose for your farm. Consideration, particularly on labour, feed space and storage must also be taken into account when making your decision. From a labour point of view, buying/harvesting silage and having your total fodder requirement met from silage is the most labour efficient. However, if this is not possible then the most appropriate solution will depend on individual circumstances and may involve a mix of some/all strategies suggested for your farm. If you think you might be running low on winter supplies, I would however encourage you to contact your agricultural advisor sooner rather than later. Solutions are best identified at an earlier stage.  

Teagasc are co-ordinating a short Fodder Survey end-June / early July to see where we stand nationally re fodder reserved for Winter 2018. Please complete.


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