Apr 30, 2021
Planning key to successful silage season
Apr 30, 2021
For Andrew Eastabrook, Farm Manager at Home Farm, Hartpury University and College, high quality forage is worth its weight in gold and substitutes a significant amount of purchased concentrate feed. He explains his goals for this year and the careful planning process that underpins his silaging system.
Having been very pleased with the quality of 2020 silage, the main priority for this year is simply increasing the quantity we have available to feed. Due to wet ground conditions and very slow grass growth delaying turnout, we haven’t got any silage stocks to carry forward. On top of this, we have also expanded the herd with the addition of 50 Guernsey cows.
To allow us to continue achieving high levels of milk from forage – which currently sits around 4,000 litres/cow/year – producing a higher volume of silage while maintaining quality is therefore the current focus.
Early planning is key
Planning which fields are put-up for silage happens well in advance and we need to ensure we have a sufficient acreage to produce enough quality forage for our entire herd throughout the housed period, plus a little bit beyond as a contingency. We aim to include an even and consistent area of newly seeded leys, second year leys, and older silage fields, to balance silage quantity and quality.
Sheep are taken off the silage ground as early as possible, by mid-March at the latest – this is achievable with our February lambing ewes. However, if the grazing ground isn’t sufficient for the flock to move onto at this point in time, we will sacrifice one or two silage leys from the first cut. These fields would then be cut alongside second-cut.
Timing of fertiliser application is crucial to our system and nitrogen is applied as soon as ground conditions permit, according to the estimated number of days until harvest. Broadly speaking, we work on the basis of 2.5kg N/ha/day being used, although consideration is given to soil nitrogen supply and other organic manures.
We follow Lallemand’s Opticut system, which takes a planned approach to maximising the quality and quantity of grass silage throughout the growing season to fit our specific feeding scenario and amount of forage required. Regular pre-cut testing is a crucial part of this approach. We begin pre-cut testing four weeks in advance of the anticipated first-cut and this allows us to understand how the crop is growing and developing, and to plan ahead for optimal cutting time.
Early pre-cut tests – taken mid to late March – don’t show an awful lot due to conditions having been cold and exceptionally wet, and sward growth subsequently very slow. We will test again in early April and continue to monitor grass quality closely.
Meanwhile, every member of the silage making team will be on standby, to ensure as soon as the results show the grass is ready and the weather is right, cutting can commence.
Pre-cut Grass testing results
Using an inoculant
The use of an inoculant is an integral part of the ensiling process to help minimise nutrient losses and guard against extremes of weather. It’s been a challenging growing season so far this year and due to the variability of our crops between fields and across our farms, I feel that we cannot afford to make silage without an inoculant.
We will once again be using an inoculant from the Magniva range, which we have found to be extremely high quality and very cost-effective. The Magniva range is widely endorsed across the industry and has proven scientific backing which we really value.