It is essential that you follow a best practice routine when silage making and preparation is the key.
So here are a few of our top tips to help ensure you are making the best possible grass silage
Prepare the fields...
Move the sheep
Leaving sheep on the field you plan to harvest for too long can greatly reduce the yield of your valuable first cut silage.
Avoid using excess nitrogen
Dark green swards have excess nitrogen which reduces sugar levels. Excess nitrogen will make it difficult to reduce the pH when the grass is cut, often leading to an unpalatable and toxic silage. The maximum N to be applied is 75-105 units per acre, but for most dairy farms this depends on the sward and soil fertility, unless the previous crop was a cereal.
Think about how much you have put on already. Do you know how much NPK to allow for? Too much nitrogen will result in a grass that is hard to ensile.
Concentrate on good ryegrass based swards as secondary grasses and old pastures have lower yields and sugars. If you do have to ensile these fields then ensure you modify the fertiliser application. Think about the timing, work backwards from your target cutting day.
Walk the fields
Remove any obstacles to avoid damaging machinery. Check for mole hills, make sure they are flattened before the grass grows too much and remove the moles.
Ensure they are clear and in good condition, any mud on machine tyres can often end up in the clamp, leading to spoilage.
Repair the pit
Carry out any general repairs required.
Manpower and silage inoculant
If using a contractor, book in advance. Agree beforehand the way you would like your silage making and approximate timing. Have your forage enhancer delivered on farm in time for silage making day.
Remember to service any silage making machinery you may be using.
Ensure systems for channelling effluent away from the pit are empty, clean and in full working order. Effluent is extremely polluting and needs to be discarded safely.
Clean enhancer barrels
Clean out any rain water or forage enhancer left over from last season as this will contaminate this years crop.
Silage making time...
Cut high and dry
Mow the crop when dry (no rain or dew), after 12pm ideally. The swath needs to be as wide as possible or ted straight away. Leave at least three inches of aftermath and the base rubbish in the sward bottom.
Wilt quickly to concentrate sugar
A fast wilting process will concentrate the sugar content in the grass and will lead to a faster fermentation and better quality silage, but do not wilt for more than 24 hours. Ideally a dry matter of 27% should be aimed for especially if the crop is high in nitrogen or low in sugars to begin with. For a faster fermentation under a wide range of conditions, a silage inoculant with the ability to utilise Fructan (Powerstart) will increase the level of sugar immediately available by around 50%. It is also advisable to do a fresh grass sample.
Raking and tedding
Set rakes and tedders correctly to avoid ground contact, especially if you have applied slurry and farmyard manure. Soil and slurry contain undesirable bacteria, which will spoil your silage.
Fill fast and evenly
Fill the clamp fast and evenly to ensure there are no air pockets. Roll as you fill, minimise the length of time the silage is exposed to the air. Try to produce a 'Dorset Wedge' if possible, which is short chopped, thin layers, well rolled and completely dry.
Dont roll the morning after
Rolling squeezes out carbon dioxide, sucks in fresh air and starts a butyric fermentation instead, leading to a poor quality silage.
Maximum roll time
Roll for an hour maximum in the evening and put the sheet down every night. It takes only 20 minutes for the oxygen in the clamp to be used. A lactic acid fermentation (the sort required to make good quality silage) will begin only if no more air is getting in.
Completely seal the clamp
Lactic acid fermentation does not start until all air has been removed from the clamp and no more is getting in. Sidewalls should be sealed before starting and shoulder and top sheets should be weighted down as soon as possible.