Second-cut silage was mowed on James King’s farm in Ballymena, Co Antrim, on Wednesday and the plan is to get it into the pit on Thursday after a 24-hour wilt.
“It is a big crop of grass and it has been growing for less than six weeks. First-cut went in on 7 May and it was fine for bulk, but it seemed good quality, which is the main thing,” James said.
The silage ground received around 28m3/ha (2,500 gallons/ac) of slurry plus 247kg/ha (two bags/ac) of 27% nitrogen fertiliser after first cut.
The original plan was to start second-cut last weekend, but showers were forecast for the weekend and the start of the week.
Also, grass samples were analysed last Friday and results showed that the material could be difficult to ensile.
As Table 1 indicates, there was no issue with nitrate levels in the samples, but sugar levels were below optimal and buffer capacity was high.
Some silage fields require reseeding and the presence of natural grasses in these swards probably contributed to the below-optimal sugar levels in the samples. Also, the samples were taken in the morning when sugar levels are naturally lower.
Dairylink adviser Aidan Cushnahan pointed out that, aside from avoiding rain, a few extra days growing could allow sugar levels to rise, especially as sunny intervals were forecast.
That said, the grass had to be cut eventually and delaying for too long would affect digestibility, with more stemmy material present.
James has opted for an inoculant that contains bacteria and makes more grass sugars available for the fermentation process
Aidan’s advice was to get the grass mowed and ensiled dry, with a good wilt in between times. He recommended mowing in the afternoon to maximise sugar content and applying an additive to improve the ensilability of the forage.
James has opted for an inoculant that contains bacteria and makes more grass sugars available for the fermentation process. The same product was used for second-cut last year and he was pleased with the results.
There are 80ac of second cut to be ensiled, which is the exact same area as first cut. There are also 22ac of wholecrop growing on the King farm.
The spring wheat crop was under-sown with a grass seed mix for a reseed. The mix was made up of the tetraploids Abergain and Aberclyde and the diplpoids Aberwolf and Abergreen.
James King has made over 100 bales of silage from surplus grass on the milking platform so far this year.
He has been keeping on top of grass supply and maintaining quality through regular grass measuring and budgeting.
The latest grass walk indicated that growth rate was 73kg DM/ha/day and average farm cover was 1,003kg DM/ha. This equates to an average cover of 216kg DM/cow, which is slightly above the current target of 180kg DM/cow. However, as Figure 1 shows, the grass wedge for the King farm is in good shape, as the demand line is matching covers in almost every paddock.
“We will mow another four acres of the heaviest cover this week, as it’s a bit too strong for cows. We baled off 15ac last week as well.
In an ideal world, it would be great if we were able to alternate between grazing and baling every time
“It is hard to keep on top of grass and keep quality in the sward at this time of year, but the grass wedge gives you the confidence to take bales off and you know you aren’t leaving yourself short,” James said.
There has been some topping after cows where residual covers were too high, but James is clear that he would much rather keep swards clean by baling off excess covers.
“You get a much better clean-out after the next grazing. In an ideal world, it would be great if we were able to alternate between grazing and baling every time,” he said.
Last week’s surplus grass yielded around two bales per acre. Although this is a very light crop, James points out that it has quickly corrected the grass wedge, improved the quality of grazing swards and has left him with 30 bales of top-quality winter feed.
It was trickier early on when growth was slow
“Ground conditions are ideal at present. We are still getting the odd shower, which keeps enough moisture in the ground to push on growth.
“It was trickier early on when growth was slow, but we were able to get through by buffer-feeding silage at milking time,” he said.
There is scope to improve milk from forage on the King farm and James has been easing back concentrate levels in recent days to get more production from grass. The target for Dairylink farms at this time of year is to get at least 18l from forage.
The milking herd on the King farm is averaging 26.8l from 5.6kg of meal at present. Milk from forage is moving in the right direction and currently sits at 14.5l, up from 11.5l last week.