Silage lessons learnt

The 2022 growing season provided a clear reminder of why it’s important to capture and lock in silage yield and quality at every opportunity.

Volac silage expert, Ken Stroud said this year’s season underlined a couple of important lessons:

He said: “In a business like farming, where we are dependent on the weather, we are always exposed to risk. To manage this risk, good planning is key.

“After a season like 2022, which left many producers facing silage shortfalls because of the drought, it’s a good time to reappraise your silage-making. Do you need to make more silage next season – or at least do a better job of reducing in-clamp losses – in case the weather in 2023 throws another curveball?  Do you need to look at your soil health, measure nutrient status, revisit fertiliser and slurry applications, have a reseeding plan, and invest in new machinery for more efficient silage-making? Or do you need to make other changes – for example cutting for silage earlier and more often, or better protecting your silage against losses?”

Growing conditions

Mr Stroud said good growing conditions early in 2022 meant there was plenty of grass about initially, but those bulky crops were difficult to wilt and had lots of dead grass in the sward base.

Longer wilting times increase in-field losses, while dead grass in swards is prone to yeast and mould growth, leading to losses from silage heating.

Where crops were cut earlier, before excessive bulking, some first-cut silage was safely ‘banked.’ Cutting younger also

encouraged better grass quality, plus better regrowth for the next cut – potentially increasing the overall yield before the drought hit.

Mr Stroud advised: “In readiness for 2023, start by calculating how much silage you’ll need for next winter. But also ask yourself whether you need to make a bit more – say an extra 10% to 20% as a contingency.”

To make more silage of better quality consider reseeding. Sowing a Mole Valley Farmers’ Premier Ley specifically designed for silage making will greater improve nitrogen use efficiency, yield and the quality of your silage.

Mr Stroud added: “With the high price of fertiliser, do you really want to be feeding weeds? Using a good-quality silage additive serves two purposes. Improving fermentation – the pickling process that preserves silage – reduces dry matter (DM) losses, but it also leads to better preservation of silage quality. This is important because if you want more milk from forage, quality silage is key.”

Ecosyl applies a million beneficial lactobacillus plantarum MTD/1 bacteria per gram of grass treated. MTD/1 is important because it is highly efficient at fermentation.

“In research, grass ensiled without an additive lost a tenth of its DM, but in grass silage made with Ecosyl these DM losses were more than halved,” added Mr Stroud.

“If 1,000 tonnes of fresh grass had been ensiled at 32% DM – 320 tonnes of DM ensiled – these reduced losses with Ecosyl equate to having 17.6 more tonnes of silage DM available to feed. In addition, silage made with Ecosyl has also been found to be more digestible, so it provides more energy to the animal for the production of milk or meat. Indeed, cows fed a range of forages preserved with Ecosyl yielded on average 1.2 litres more milk/cow/ day compared with feeding untreated silage. If the grass is ensiled without an additive, the fermentation will be at the mercy of whatever bacteria are naturally present on the grass, including bad bacteria, which is an unnecessary risk.”