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Dairy farmers are being urged to prepare well ahead of the silage season so they are ready to cut at the first good weather... Prepare now for first cut silage success

Dairy farmers are being urged to prepare well ahead of the silage season so they are ready to cut at the first good weather opportunity.

Last year, many farmers did not end up taking first cuts until June. Often this was because they weren’t in a position to move quickly enough when the weather eventually became dry enough to get out in the field.

“This resulted in silage of low or variable quality – which has cost many herds a lot in purchased feed or milk yields this winter,” says Lientjie Colahan, from Lallemand’s technical support team.

To minimise the risk of a similar situation this year, Ms Colahan recommends that growers start conversations with their nutritionist, agronomist and silage contractor as soon as possible.

Calculate requirements

“Your nutritionist will be able to help you work out a forage budget based on your system. Together, you will then be able to work out how much grass silage, and of what quality, you need to achieve your target number of litres from forage per day.”

She notes that once you have this information, your agronomist can help develop a robust slurry and fertiliser application plan that will help support the production of good quality grass for silage.

“If circumstances change, nutrient plans can be adapted. However, not having any plan at all means being reactive to the weather. This can result in farmers not getting the best price for their fertiliser and may also lead to issues with contractor availability.”

Ms Colahan’s other advice for forage planning includes making use of Lallemand’s pre-cut grass testing service. And when thinking about silage preservation in the clamp, she says that the benefits of using an inoculant should not be overlooked.

“Pre-cut testing helps determine when the crop is at the optimum stage for cutting. Farmers should start sampling two weeks before the previous year’s cutting date, given the yearly variation in grass growth, to monitor nitrate, NDF and sugar content.

“A new UK-based trial undertaken at Reading University indicates that using an inoculant on grass silage can improve clamp stability, increase feedable dry matter by 29% and improve fat-corrected milk yields by 1.9 kg/day.

Range of challenges

“With this in mind, I’d recommend considering an inoculant from our Magniva Platinum range. These inoculants have been specifically formulated for a range of challenges, such as variable weather and variable dry matters (DM).”

Analysis has shown that there is always a return on investment from using an inoculant, says Ms Colahan.  “Home-grown feed is widely accepted as the most cost-effective feed on farm, and the cost of an inoculant is just a small part of the cost of making good silage.”

Ms Colahan also recommends thinking about available clamp space, sooner rather than later. “You ideally need a structurally secure, clean empty clamp to hold your first cut [to avoid] cross-contamination with mould and other spoilage organisms.”