Back in the ‘summertime’ (if that’s not a misnomer), I wrote about my wrapped silage and stated how pleased I was with the overall quality of grass going into the bales.

I finished off with a confident flourish, and said: “I predict a silage analysis for the winter ahead that will be as suitable for pregnant ewes and young dairy heifers as I am ever likely to want.”

So, obviously there was only ever one way this was going to finish up and, sure enough, the resultant analysis was disappointing to say the least.

My anticipated series of ME figures of 11 and over just didn’t materialise. In fact, not one of the five samples managed to break this glass ceiling – the nearest I came was one sample at 10.9.

Proteins were all over the place and swung wildly from 8.6% to 14.8%, with the only consolation being a series of high dry matter figures, ranging from 25%DM to 56%. This is my only possible road to salvation, because for years now I have clung to the notion that high dry matter baled silage performs miles ahead of the predicted analytical performance. After carefully monitoring cattle performance and body condition of ewes, I am inclined to reinforce that view.

Weight gain

According to the weighbridge, the dairy stock (averaging around 250kg) gained 0.6kg per day during December and January on ad-lib silage and 1.5kg of a blended ration.

Since this is the highest weight gain I have ever recorded (including strong continental steers), I’ll have to eye those results with a pinch of salt. Maybe the first weighing was somehow a bit light and they’ve just finished a wee growth spurt? On the other hand, I could accept all accolades, and put it down to superior stockmanship, but this might not bear too much scrutiny.

Lowest quality

On the ewe front, I have been feeding a batch of late-lambers with my lowest-quality fodder (according to the analysis). With an ME of 9.3, you might assume it is merely belly fill, although I had confidently reckoned it was ideal grass going into the bale. It is almost 60% dry matter and smells as if someone has wrapped a sunny day inside it – I’d describe it as leafy haylage.

The sheep appear to be maintaining body condition, so I am not agreeing with the energy figures as supplied by the analysis. Sometimes I wonder if the three most important components of good silage for sheep are intake, intake, and intake (in no particular order).

Clamp silage is probably a different thing altogether, and quite possibly the chemical analysis can be taken at face value. I just think there is something about baled grass when fed to sheep that we need to better understand.

Obviously, I am not talking about shot grass being used here – typically, I am referencing swards that are grazed in the spring, then fertilised for silage and cut at the end of May.

Wet grass

Or to put it another way, the opposite effect of what would be expected, has happened to me. Leafy, wet grass has been baled and has thrown up a fantastic analysis, but I have found the sheep do not like the strong flavour. Intakes are subsequently hit and the ewes rapidly lose condition.

I have become extremely wary of any silage sample that smells a bit ripe. My barometer test is coming into the house after handling a bale and Susan telling me I’m smelling a bit whiffy and asking when did I last change my socks? This is as strong an indicator as any chemical analysis that silage palatability may be compromised.

I have mentioned this phenomenon to a couple of nutritionists: both understood where I was coming from, but the one with ewes of his own was on the same wavelength as me. As I have stated before, anyone with clamp silage may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about, but I wonder how many other shepherds have noticed this anomaly with baled silage analysis?

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