Proper preparation makes a big difference when it comes to silage making and getting it wrong can prove costly with potential losses of up to £14,000, says one expert.
Kite Consulting’s forage expert, Paul Macer points to figures from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research suggesting that the potential for losses during the whole silaging process can range from 8% to 48%, meaning 1,000 tonnes in the field could become as much as 920t of good silage, or as little as 520t of poor quality material.
And at £35/t that could be £14,000 of forage lost or gained, or the equivalent of 1.4p/l for a 1m litre producer, plus all the extra cost involved in trying to balance a poor quality sample.
Mr Macer has 10 top tips to help farmers minimise losses with this year’s silage:
See also: A guide to buying a used forager
(1) Silage pits – make sure all the pits are empty and have been cleaned out thoroughly to remove any mould or contamination from last year’s silage. If any repairs are required then get them done in time for concrete to cure before the grass arrives.
(2) Materials – order in your silage sheets and additive, if you use one, making sure they have arrived well before your anticipated start date.
(3) Talk to your contractor – if you use a contractor make sure you step up the frequency of communication so you are both on the same page in terms of when you are planning to start. Always remember contractors respond better to customers who pay promptly. Fast payment can help put you in a better position when you are vying for a slot.
(4) Check your equipment – if you silage yourself, make sure all machinery is serviced and ready to go. Waiting until the grass is ready before going to find the silage sides for the trailers in the back of the shed is too late.
(5) Timing – be prepared to take any window of opportunity with the weather once you are within a few days of your planned start date. Don’t hold off if you are ready to go and the weather is good just to “let the crop bulk up a bit”. Any shortfalls on first cut yield will be made up later in the season, but you will never get the quality back.
(6) Harvesting your grass – try and mow when grass is dry and has had a few hours of sun on it. Spread grass out immediately after it has been cut in order to maximise the wilt. The stomata in grass are only open for a few hours after it has been cut so those first few hours are crucial for getting rid of moisture from the cut grass. Aim for a dry matter of between 30% and 35% and a chop length of around 5cm.
(7) In the field – monitor machinery all the time whilst grass is being harvested. Check the mower, tedder and rake aren’t dragging in soil and that there is no soil contamination from trailer wheels. When it comes to foraging, the speed of operations should be dictated by the person at the clamp and how quickly they can roll and clamp the grass, however this rarely happens. Be prepared to put an extra person and tractor on the clamp to make sure it is well consolidated, especially if you are using a high capacity machine.
(8) Additives – these are no substitute for poor management but they will make good silage even better by encouraging a faster fermentation and thus retaining nutrients in the forage. Make sure that you use a product that has good independent research behind it.
(9) Over night – once you are finished for the evening or if you have to stop for weather – put a sheet over the clamp to reduce the amount of oxygen that gets in. Don’t roll the clamp in the morning, as this will just introduce more oxygen.
(10) When you’ve finished – put the sheets on ASAP after the final roll, don’t leave it until the next day. And get the sheets well weighted down. Put fertiliser and slurry on to fields that will be cut a second time as soon as you can.