After our drought-stricken summer, farmers around the country have found themselves in various tricky scenarios. Many farmers were forced to graze second-cut silage ground and as a result are attempting to gather late second-cut silage while more farmers are bidding to gather a late third cut after a poor yield of second-cut silage.
Regardless of the scenario, harvesting grass in late September and October is very different to harvesting grass in May or June. The fact that the days are getting shorter means there’s more of a dew on the grass and there are less hours of sunshine, two features that may prove very difficult to get any kind of a desirable wilt.
Mowing and tedding
In an ideal scenario, we want to cut the grass when the crop is as dry as possible. A standing crop will dry much faster than a crop that has been cut. When mowing, it is advisable to maximise the surface area of the grass that’s cut in order to maximise the wilt.
The next question is should farmers shake out grass after mowing at this time of the year? There is no correct answer to this question as it’s dependent on the individual situation.
If there is a suitable break in the weather for a desirable wilt, then yes, tedding the grass is the correct option. Preservation of grass with a low dry matter (DM) and a high nitrogen (N) content is a big challenge so we need to obtain a suitable wilt if possible.
However, if the grass is leafy, the increased machinery interaction may lead to a loss of material.
In addition, if farmers are forced into cutting and harvesting grass in wet weather, perhaps then tedding is not a suitable option. In this situation also consider the option of using an additive to aid preservation.
McHale technician James Heanue explained that farmers/contractors need to make sure the springs in the pick-up reel of balers are tensioned to ensure the pick-up will float on the ground. This avoids contamination with soil, especially when ground conditions begin to deteriorate. Missing tines should be replaced to help gather all of the sward. James added that raking of grass is beneficial at this time of the year especially in lighter crops to help make a good solid bale. In addition to this, bale density should be increased as the moisture levels are high, this will help to reduce the sagging of bales.
He advised that farmers/contractors should keep the auto greaser filled to keep any unwanted water out of bearings. The auto greaser will continuously feed grease into bearings thus pushing out any water. Chains should also be well-tensioned to help deal with the increased pressure load due to the heavier bales.
Handling and storage of bales
Gathering bales directly after they have been wrapped is of critical importance. Wet bales of soft fresh grass have a tendency to lose their shape very quickly. Fixed handlers and smaller tractors will struggle to handle bales made in this autumn period. To avoid this, farmers may need to look at alternative methods in advance of handling bales.
As a result of bales being so wet and heavy, additional net and wrap must be applied. This will help to further support the structure of the bale and will aid preservation.
A minimum of three layers of net would be advisable when using a combination baler. If using a standard baler, 3.5 layers would be advisable and possibly additional net if the bales are being transported before wrapping.
Dermot Forristal of Teagasc Oakpark said that research he carried out a number of years ago showed that better preservation of silage took place where six layers of plastic were applied in comparison to four layers. However, when the handling of bales was good in desirable silage harvesting conditions, satisfactory results could be achieved from four layers. For dealing with the soft wet grass over the next few weeks, Dermot would advise farmers to apply six layers of plastic over four.
Where possible, the stacking of very wet bales should be avoided. Stacked wet bales can cause a breakdown in the layer of film, an increased amount of effluent and can affect preservation. In addition, bales should always be stored away from any watercourses.
Pöttinger technician Ben Stokes explained that farmers/contractors will need to run the pick-up reel of the forage wagon much closer to the ground in order to gather all of the short lush grass.
As a result of running the pick-up closer to the ground, a full complement of tines is essential and forward speed should be reduced.
He added that operators need to be aware of the heavier load posed on the forage wagon at this time of the year.
“There is a significant weight difference between a load of dry silage in June and a load of very wet silage in October so operators need to account for this,” said Ben.
Ben indicated that tyre pressure should be monitored for two reasons. Firstly, a machine parked in a shed for a few weeks in between cuts may have a tyre with a slow puncture, and when a significant load is placed on this tyre it will not be able to withstand the weight. Secondly, as ground conditions begin to deteriorate, a lower ground pressure is best to reduce damage to soils and farmers should take this into consideration as ground condition deteriorates.
Take home messageDue to the high moisture content, bales will be very heavy (up to a tonne) and will lose shape quickly after being baled so farmers must have a suitable handling method in place immediately after baling.Bales should receive additional net and wrap (six wraps over four), likewise pits must be well covered and sealed to ensure maximum preservation is achieved.If harvesting conditions are wet the likelihood is that there will be a significant amount of effluent released from the silage. Farmers need to ensure this effluent is managed appropriately.