Cropping

Ten steps to better silage

By Geoff Adams

NSW DPI has produced the following 10-point guide to making and using quality silage:

PLANNING

1. Why conserve forage?• What are your business goals?• Does silage fit into the whole farm plan by meeting the production and management goals?• Is silage the most economic and/or practical option to fill a feed gap, to balance the ration or utilise excesspasture?

2. Always target high quality silage; it:      • Maximises animal production potential.      • Reduces production, storage and feedout costs per unit of stored ME (metabolisable energy).     • Increases management flexibility.

MAKING

3. Minimise costs• Are your harvesting, storage and feedout systems well matched to maximise efficiency and minimisecosts?• Should you invest capital in silage equipment? Should you consider using a contractor?• Will capital investment increase efficiency, and therefore increase profitability?

4. Start with high quality forage• Grow crops and pastures that produce high quality forage and have high yield potential.

5. Cut at the recommended growth stage• Forage quality declines as the crop or pasture matures. Time of harvest is important.• Consider the effect on regrowth of pastures and forage crops.• Maximise pasture utilisation by integrating silage cuts with grazing.

6. Wilt as quickly as possible to target dry matter (ideally within 24 hours, but less than 48)• Leave the swath as wide as possible.• Use a mower-conditioner.• Use a tedder to spread the windrow.• Don’t over-wilt — field losses increase and silage is harder to compact. 

RAKING

7. Minimise losses (of quality and quantity) during harvest and storage• Harvest at the target dry matter level.• Certain additives will improve silage fermentation if wilting conditions are poor.• Even when good silage preservation is expected, inoculants can improve silage quality and animalproduction.• Additives will not compensate for poor silage management (late harvest, slow wilting or poor sealing).

Chopped silage• Roll pits/stacks/bunkers throughout the harvest process to eliminate air.• Finer chop will be easier to compact.• Seal pits or stacks as soon as harvest is complete, ideally within three days of starting large pits or stacks.

Baled silage• Aim for high density bales to minimise air pockets.• Wrap or seal bales as soon as possible after baling.• Minimise damage to stretch-wrap by wrapping at the storage site or use specialist equipment to transportbales to storage.

8. Ensure feedout system will support high intake• Ease of removing and eating the silage (accessibility) affects intake• The feeding space allocated per animal and access time will affect intake. 

FEEDING

9. Minimise losses during feedout• Good feeding facilities will reduce losses.• Control access during feeding to eliminate trampling and fouling.• Feed regularly and only in quantities that will be consumed between feeds.• Keep feedout areas clean to prevent contamination of fresh batches.• High feed quality will reduce wastage.

EVALUATE

10. Evaluate the whole silage system — how can it be made more profitable?• Keep records of field operations — were all operations done at the right time? What could have beenimproved?• Keep records of what crops/pasture are stored.• Use feed tests to monitor silage quality. Is it acceptable? Given the parent forage, should it be better?• Use feed tests to monitor animal production.• Monitor storage losses. Can you explain why you are getting losses in storage?• Estimate feedout losses. How can they be reduced?• Monitor silage costs. Are there opportunities for reducing costs?