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May 19, 2020

Saving for a non-rainy day

May 19, 2020

The owners of a large Western District property have ensiled more than 2000 big square bales to help safeguard their livestock operation against the twin perils of drought and fire.

Located outside Darlington, Victoria, the property hosts prime lamb, cropping and trade cattle enterprises. Its farm manager says the silage has been locked away as an emergency fodder reserve.

“One of the key objectives of the owners has been to implement a drought mitigation strategy,” he says.

“They are quite sensitive about the potential cost of hand feeding in an operation this size.

“The silage is also insurance against fire. Having access to fodder is a big part of being able to get back on your feet. Either way, we don’t want to be in the position of having to source fodder at the same time as everyone else, particularly if it has to be transported long distances.”

The property has three silage pits that were dug about 30 years ago. “We use the two smaller pits, which hold about 2000 wet tonnes, in our annual program but we’d never used the third pit because it was so big,” the farm manager says.

“I started to think about making silage using big square bales. I did a bit of ringing around and recognised that Lallemand had the experience to help us. I got in touch with their Geelong-based Technical Services Manager, Kurt Stein, and it went from there.”

The first step was to recommission the 60 x 24 metre pit. “We brought in a 25-tonne excavator to clear away the grass and mud and to scrape the bottom back to its natural clay base,” the farm manager says.

“We put a nice fall away from the pit. We made the left hand wall nice and sharp so we could push the bales in tight and battered away the right wall so we could get the tarp down the sides for a good seal.”

Fodder was sourced from a number of properties within 20 km radius. “We’ve been rebuilding our flock over the past couple of years and we didn’t have any pastures to spare above and beyond our usual silage program,” the farm manager says.

“We’d had a good spring, so we approached our neighbours to see if they would be willing to sell any surplus pastures or crops. We ended up with a good mix of ryegrass, rye-lucerne, rye-clover and barley crops.”

Each bale was treated with Lallemand TRILAC, a tried-and-proven inoculant which is ideal for ensiling spring cereal and pastures. It contains high concentrations of two forage-specific bacteria, Pediococcus pentosaceus and Lactobacillus plantarum.

P. pentosaceus is the fastest lactic acid-producing bacteria available and dominates silage fermentation after four hours, while L. plantarum is highly valued for its ability to reduce pH rapidly and preserve feed faster. Used in combination, the two bacteria help to produce a stable, well-preserved silage.

The 0.9 x 1.2 x 2.4 m bales were stacked four high in rows of 10 using a JCB articulated loader. “We had three baling contractors going flat-out and a B-double arriving every hour, so it was a fairly hectic week,” the farm manager says.

“We covered the top and side with white silage tarps, back-filled the sides and put 600 mm of soil across the top. We then track-rolled the sides and top with the loader and truck.

“We accept that there’s going to be some loss because of the gaps between the bales but they’ve been in the ground for five months and the pit hasn’t changed shape, so that’s a good sign.”

The manager describes the total cost of the project as ‘quite respectable’ when considered on a dry matter basis. “Every farmer has a different sensitivity to risk and their own sums, but we think this is a good investment for us,” he says.

“There’s no reason why the silage won’t keep for at least 10 years and it’ll be there whenever we need it. Our plan is that we’ll only open the pit only if we have a failed spring. We’ll open it in late autumn after we’ve exhausted our annual supply.

“We think we’ll have enough feed to carry 10,000 ewes for six months, when incorporated with other fodder sources, which is long enough to get us through lambing and weaning.

“When the time comes, we’ll remove the silage using a bale grab and feed it out using a silage wagon. Anyone can do this. You just have to do your homework.”