10 May 1996


Making good silage is an art, but there are some golden rules, says one Somerset farmer. Jessica Buss passes on some good advice

MAKING good silage is a state of mind. That is according to Steve Edmunds, Somerset milk producer and inventor of the inoculant Live System.

"Working hard on ensiling grass for one week can make a whole winter easier, for stock will be easier to manage," he says. He advises producers who use contractors to be their best friend.

"Make the contractor quote the lowest price then offer more and pay him as he leaves the farm," he says.

Mr Edmunds aims to maximise margin a litre on his 6500 litre 120-cow herd, at Ashcott Farm, Bridgwater by making the best use of home grown forage. This is reflected in an average 4362 litres a cow a year from forage. But such performance depends on making good quality silage.

Over five years his silage has had an average ammonia level of 2.3%. Mr Edmunds calls these super silages because the low ammonia levels allow high cow feed intakes and performance. And his cows are easy to manage and healthy.

"I cant remember the last time a cow had a digestive upset and we only pick up one cows foot a month," he maintains.

To make good quality silage, lactic acid bacteria must dominate the bacterial war before nutrients are wasted.

"Its the speed and outcome of the battle which dictates the quality of the resulting silage." Success depends on the management of silage through all stages of production.

This begins, says Mr Edmunds, with grass type and sward quality. Good silage cannot be made from poor grass.

He advises against making silage on rented keep for it often comprises poor quality grasses that have more nitrogen fertiliser applied than they can use.

He also points out that it is worth reseeding pasture just to take advantage of newer higher yielding grass varieties. But Mr Edmunds believes it is better to make 10 tonnes of good silage than 11 tonnes of bad silage. This year he has applied 107kg/ha (85 units/acre) of nitrogen including slurry to silage ground. Because of the late winter and cold spring he will test the grass before silage making.

If grass nitrogen levels are high, he will delay the cut or make drier silage. Silage at 27 to 30% DM is less sensitive to high nitrogen levels.

"To achieve higher dry matter silage, cut the grass in the afternoon, running two mowers then rather than one mower all day."

This can usually be achieved by working with a neighbour. Mr Edmunds also cautions against cutting too far ahead of the harvester by using a mower that is too small in case the weather changes.

"Wilt the grass for a short a time as possible. Have a silage dry matter target that suits the farm. If it starts raining keep going, dont leave the cut crop out in the field to go yellow."

When filling the clamp, Mr Edmunds takes care to keep mud and slurry out of the pit. This means washing tractors that will be used for pushing up silage into the pit, and keeping muddy tractors out of the pit. He avoids using the scraper tractor for rolling silage.

"How much we roll the grass depends on the dry matter," he says. "High dry matter crops, at over 30% DM, must be rolled more and in thinner layers than wetter crops to achieve good consolidation." Shorter chop lengths may also help when trying to consolidate drier crops, he says.

He ensures the pit is sealed every night and then seals it carefully and quickly when silage making is finished.

"Leaving the silage uncovered at the end will stop the good bacteria from growing because they cant grow in oxygen but the harmful ones can," he says.

"It is much more important how you make the silage, than the additive you use. Formic acid or Live System are the only two silage additives needed."

When deciding between inoculant additives that all cost around £1.50 to treat a tonne of grass, value them on the number of bugs present after eight hours, he advises.

Mr Edmunds claims that once good silage has been made then cow performance is down to feeding and genetic ability.

"Cows must get quick mouthfuls easily," he says. "Bunkers and troughs are best for silage feeding – or push up the feed for cows frequently." &#42


Five-year average silage averages

&#8226 Dry matter 29%

&#8226 pH 3.9

&#8226 ME 11.5

&#8226 Crude protein 16.5%

&#8226 Ammonia 2.3%

&#8226 Good grass variety.

&#8226 Avoid over applying nitrogen levels.

&#8226 Cut a dry crop.

&#8226 Wilt for under 24 hours.

&#8226 Minimise soil and slurry contamination.

&#8226 Roll well, high DM material needs more rolling.

&#8226 Seal the pit every night.

&#8226 Use a quick, effective additive.



&#8226 Farm area: 120ha (300 acres), maize 28ha (70 acres), cereals 36ha (90 acres).

&#8226 Stocking: 120 cows, bull beef and followers.

&#8226 Cow performance: 6500 litres/cow (4362 litres from forage); MOPF/litre 23.62p; MOC/cow £1500

Mr Edmunds cautions against cutting too far ahead of the harvester by using a mower that is too small.

Bridgwater farmer Steve Edmunds.

Its better to make 10t of good silage than 11t of bad silage.