Investing in Silage Quality: Ensuring Optimal Feeding Performance

As the 2023 silage season began with variable weather conditions, dairy farmers face crucial decisions that can significantly impact silage feeding quality. Despite a challenging start to the season, ForFarmers expert Bruce Forshaw explains that early setbacks do not necessarily have a detrimental effect on silage quality.

The colder and wetter April weather led a variety of experiences across the country depending on location, conditions, and individual choices, he said. "Some farmers took their first cut while the ground was still soft, risking soil contamination, while others opted for a later cut, potentially experiencing a decrease in quality with increased fibre content."

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Soil contamination occurs when grass is cut too low or in wet conditions, leading to the presence of wild yeasts or moulds, which accelerate heat generation, he explained. To mitigate that, Bruce emphasises the importance of using an appropriate additive during the ensiling process.

Grass growth significantly improved in May, with growth rates doubling compared to April. Bruce said: "While the delayed spring held back growth initially, the current trajectory is promising, so all signs are good for 2023 silage."

Given the variable conditions so far, it is crucial for farmers to have their silage analysed to understand its nutritional composition. "Through analysis, you can determine the actual content within your silage clamp," said Bruce. "At ForFarmers, we use dry NIR and our Feed2Milk programme, enabling precise rationing based on the farm's forage through the use of OptiFeed."

Bruce also stresses the significance of good management practices including ensuring clamps are clean and well maintained and that silage is consolidated and sealed effectively. He also recommends layering across the clamp to ensure consistent feeding of different cuts, minimising variations in quality for the herd. Once feeding starts, it is crucial to get across the silage face within a week. These practices are particularly important when quality of silage varies, he added.

"Additives act as an insurance policy, even when conditions are ideal. They help maintain a cool clamp environment and prevent aerobic spoilage on the face." While additives cannot solve all issues, they improve fermentation, enhance quality, conserve energy, and minimise dry matter losses during storage.

ForFarmers statistics reveal that 70% of top quartile producers use additives, indicating their crucial role in silage quality. "Considering the strong link between forage quality, quantity, and a dairy unit's financial performance, investing in additives is a prudent decision to ensure the best possible outcome."

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