17 July 1998

Quality silage keeps the average up

HIGH quality grass silage is vital to achieve a 9770-litre a cow average with 4100 litres from forage, says Staffs producer Steve Cox.

His 180-cow herd on the 162ha (400 acre) Manor Farm, Marston, Church Eaton is fed just 2710kg of concentrate a cow.

To get high production from forage, Mr Cox told BGS delegates that he aimed to produce 12ME, palatable silage and challenge cows to maximise forage intakes. "Making good silage starts in the autumn, with all grass cleaned off fields using sheep. This ensures all spring grass is new growth and encourages more tillering."

Short grass was also better for spreading slurry without risking contaminating silage, added Mr Cox. All fields receive some slurry, so only 100kg/ha (80units/acre) of nitrogen is applied for first cut, split between February and March.

To maximise the cutting window, Mr Cox drilled intermediate and late perennial rye grasses, producing high quality grass for silage making between May 5 and May 25. He also grows Italian ryegrass which is grazed early in the season, before cutting for silage and hay. Grass is cut using a mower conditioner and picked up 24 hours later. Swaths are only spread when necessary to achieve a 25-30% dry matter crop, he said. He used an acid additive to ensure a good fermentation and cut waste. "Take time to sheet and tyre clamps. Each wrinkle in the sheet creates an air pocket that can produce a tonne of waste, which is worth £25/t."

This years first cut is 12ME and cows will be challenged to milk from it. "To challenge cows you must not overfeed concentrate. With total mixed rations it is easy to forget the value of silage." He admitted he had under-valued silage and fed excess straights in the past. Now he feeds a forage balancer at a flat rate and home-produced caustic wheat, with compound fed in the parlour.

To stimulate cow appetite, Mr Cox aims for cows to run out of feed two hours before feed-out. This could increase silage intakes by 15%, he said. He also believed a mixed forage diet increased intakes. He grew 14.6ha (36 acres) of maize, and cut hay which was fed at 1kg a cow a day during the winter to buffer silage.

lMore next week. &#42

Interested onlookers… Delegates at the BGS summer tour heard how Steve Cox consistently produced high quality silage for his 180-cow herd.