Plan your silage needs — plus 20-25%

Irish Examiner - Farming - - FINANCE/BEEF SECTOR - Brian Reidy

April is al­most upon us.

In a nor­mal year, silage sea­son should be just around the corner. But with vir­tu­ally no growth, the as­sump­tion is that silage will or should be much later this year.

I have writ­ten here about pro­duc­ing silage for next win­ter and striv­ing for qual­ity. That mes­sage does not change this year. Qual­ity silage is cheaper to bal­ance and gives bet­ter an­i­mal per­for­mance. Speak­ing to cus­tomers in re­cent weeks, they are be­com­ing more open to the idea of go­ing for three cuts of good qual­ity silage, rather than two heavy cuts of poor fod­der. Now is the time to cal­cu­late your silage re­quire­ments and con­vert them back to acres, to see if you will have enough from the land cur­rently avail­able to you. Cal­cu­late your feed stock be­ing car­ried over, if you are lucky enough to have any sur­plus. As a rough guide (dry mat­ter and clamp height also de­ter­mine the vol­ume), length by width by height, in feet, di­vided by 50, will give you to­tal tonnes in the pit. Grass silage pro­duc­tion is get­ting more and more ex­pen­sive ev­ery year. Un­for­tu­nately, its qual­ity can be vari­able, depend­ing on weather, cut­ting date and grass­land man­age­ment and re­seed­ing. Too much poor or av­er­age silage in the pit may in fact in­crease a farm’s over­all pro­duc­tion costs.

The trend to­wards pro­duc­ing silage from rented or leased land has had a hugely detri­men­tal ef­fect on silage qual­ity.

First cut grass silage typ­i­cally costs ap­prox­i­mately €30 per tonne, or €300 per acre, when you in­clude re­seed­ing, lim­ing, fer­tiliser, weed con­trol, and con­trac­tor charges. Re­cent years have taught us we must make sure to pro­duce more silage than our re­quire­ments, but not go over­board. Build in a 20-25% safety valve to pro­vide for a longer win­ter due to poor weather, poor growth etc.

So how much silage do you re­quire?

Firstly, you should con­struct a ta­ble like the ex­am­ple at the bottom of this page. Fill in the rel­e­vant de­tails and do a sim­ple cal­cu­la­tion of your re­quire­ments.

How much will each type of an­i­mal eat? These guide­lines are based on a silage of 20-22% dry mat­ter.

Dry suck­ler cows will typ­i­cally con­sume 45-50 kg of silage per day, depend­ing on whether you feed straw and/ or con­cen­trates or not. Suck­lers with calves will con­sume 50-55 kg of silage per day, along with some con­cen­trates to pro­vide suf­fi­cient milk pro­duc­tion and aid re­pro­duc­tion. Wean­lings will eat about 2% of their own body weight in dry mat­ter, of which silage will usu­ally make up 80%. For ex­am­ple, a 300kg wean­ling will eat 6kg of dry mat­ter, and 75% of this equates to 22kg of fresh silage per day. Stores will typ­i­cally con­sume mostly silage dur­ing win­ter feed­ing, per­haps 8085% of their to­tal feed in­take. For ex­am­ple, a 500kg store will eat 35-40kg of silage daily. Fin­ish­ers may not be so de­pen­dent on grass silage for win­ter feed­ing, if they have ac­cess to al­ter­na­tive for­ages such as beet or maize. An­i­mal on a fin­ish­ing diet, depend­ing on breed and sex, will con­sume 2-2.5% of their body weight in dry mat­ter. Dur­ing this pe­riod, in­take may be split, 50% for­age and 50% con­cen­trate. For ex­am­ple, a 600kg bul­lock will eat 12-15kg of dry mat­ter, which equates to 25-35kg of fresh silage daily. Re­mem­ber that you will re­duce the ton­nage of silage you pro­duce if you cut ear­lier than you tra­di­tion­ally would. I know that most con­trac­tors charge by the acre, but pro­duc­ing qual­ity rather than bulk must be your goal, once you have ad­e­quate vol­ume. Your cut­ting date is ob­vi­ously all down to weather, ground con­di­tions, stock­ing rate, con­trac­tor avail­abil­ity, units of ni­tro­gen ap­plied etc. Cut­ting bet­ter qual­ity silage ear­lier and more of­ten will re­sult in im­proved an­i­mal per­for­mance, with a lesser re­quire­ment for pur­chased con­cen­trates.

Bet­ter qual­ity silage has higher en­ergy and di­gestibil­ity. This tac­tic will ul­ti­mately re­duce your over­all pro­duc­tion costs next win­ter.

If you are strug­gling for acres, or good qual­ity swards, should you con­sider maize silage, beet or whole crop as bet­ter value per unit of en­ergy al­ter­na­tives?

In­de­pen­dent dairy and beef nu­tri­tion con­sul­tant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nu­tri­tion, can be con­tacted at brian@pfn.ie

Pic­tures: O’Gor­man Pho­tog­ra­phy

At the re­cent ca­reers open days, above, Cer­ti­fied Ir­ish An­gus Beef Schools Com­pe­ti­tion fi­nal­ists Emily Walsh, Su­san O’Neill, Ais­ling O’Neill and Jane McNa­mara of Lau­rel Hill Se­condary School, Lim­er­ick, at the Sale­sian Agri­cul­tural Col­lege open day, Pal­laskenry, Co Lim­er­ick. Be­low, James Daunt, Tea­gasc, with stu­dents at the Clon­akilty Agri­cul­tural Col­lege open day.

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