It has been a tricky few weeks for getting top quality silage made, and a reminder that you can get all the preparations in place, but if the weather does not comply, there is little you can do.
It is probably the beef and sheep sector that will have to carry the burden of lower quality silage this year. A lot of dairy farmers either have their own silage equipment or will be top of the list for a contractor, so hopefully the vast majority now have their first cut in store.
On a beef and sheep farm, the aim now has to be to make some high quality bales, and use that to target feed at their most productive animals, whether that is ewes approaching lambing, young growing cattle or freshly calved cows. Given the price bought-in feed is likely to be this winter, the economics of utilising concentrate to make up for a deficit in silage quality simply do not stack up.
For example, if we take the extremes of a high quality silage with a D-value of 77 versus a low quality silage with a D-value of 60. The high D-value silage should be able to support target growth of 0.7kg per day in a 350kg heifer next winter. But to achieve the same growth rate with a 60 D-value silage, will require 4.5kg of concentrate to be fed. That potentially could be an added cost of around £2 per head per day.
Given the good growing conditions of recent weeks, most first cuts have excellent bulk, so there is less pressure to chase quantity the next time around. And when taking less than 6 bales per acre, baling is likely to be a more cost-effective option than pit silage.
The key with making bales is to get the grass dry (dry matter above 30%), both to ease handling and to reduce cost. Higher dry matters also minimise the risk of a poor fermentation associated with elevated nitrates in young grass.