Plan your silage needs — plus 20-25%
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.