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Structure the approach to silaging

Advice from our specialist Advice from our specialist9-4-2020

A structured approach to silaging will improve forage quality as well as improving milk from forage. Read our Forage Specialist's article so that you can maximise your farm's forage output.

Growing grass for silage has different needs to grass grown solely for grazing. If managed well it can provide high quality forage for the winter feeding. Good silage depends on using the correct species and varieties of grass, while optimising soil conditions for growth. Decisions need to be made on when to cut, how to store and how to feed. The challenge is to produce a sufficient quantity at an appropriate quality for the stock being fed. 

Silage energy

Low quality forages require high energy and or protein purchased feeds to make up for shortfalls, which are generally more costly.

The chart indicates the energy level of purchased feed required to balance a base forage diet over a range of energy values.

Growing the correct silage grass

Digestibility and yield of silage grass

Selecting the right types of grass – Silage can be cut from a variety of field types from specialist silage short term leys to permanent pastures. Ryegrasses will provide yield, quality and have a good ability to utilise nutrients. Red or white clover can also make excellent silage but variety selection is critical. 

Growth stages – Good management will prevent the plant from reproducing and going to head. Optimising the heading of the ley will ensure that the nutrient content particularly digestibility and energy is correct. The stage of growth when the crop is cut will have the most influence on the eventual feeding of the silage. 

Heading date – Select grasses which have similar heading dates (max 12 days). There needs to be a balance between producing low yields of highly digestible young grass and high yields of mature, stemmy grass with low digestibility. 

Weed control – Perennial broad leaved weeds will reduce silage yield and quality. A 20% weed infestation will reduce grass yield by at least 20%.

Producing good silage

Cutting date – has a significant impact on silage yield and quality. As yield increases, quality declines as the grass produces stems and goes to head. This is less digestible. D value falls by 0.5 Units a day from when flowering stems start to grow. 

Moisture content – wilting will reduce the moisture content of the crop. Rapid wilting ensures minimum dry matter losses in the field and improved silage preservation. 

Chop length – a more efficient silage fermentation is produced if grass is chopped when it is picked up. More sugars are released and trapped oxygen is dispersed. Chopped grass is easier to consolidate and breaks down more rapidly in the rumen. Chop length should usually match dry matter.

Additives – using an additive can improve fermentation and animal performance.

Silage Structure

For more information

For more details on soil sampling or maximising your forage output please contact your local Account Manager or contact our Forage Team here.