Dairy farmers are being urged to complete all preparation well in advance of the 2024 silage season, so they are ready to cut at the first good weather opportunity.

Lientjie Colahan, from Lallemand’s technical support team, explains that many farmers did not end up taking first cuts until June last year.

“This is because when the weather was eventually dry enough, they weren’t in a position to move quickly,” says Mrs Colahan.

“This resulted in silage of low or variable quality which has cost many herds a lot in purchased feed or milk yield losses this winter.”

South West Farmer: Silage prep is key to first cut success, says Lallemand.

Forward planning

To minimise the risk of the same happening this year, Mrs Colahan recommends starting conversations with your nutritionist, agronomist, and contractor as soon as possible.

“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 per day.”

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

“If circumstances change, fertiliser 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.”

Mrs Colahan adds that it is important to think about the harvest workflow in advance.

“For example, when making grass silage there may be different people mowing, tedding, rowing-up and harvesting. Even when communications are good, it can be difficult to make sure all parts of the process are aligned, and teams are working effectively and efficiently,” she says.

“Consider who needs to be where and when, where the bottlenecks in workflows might be, and how to work around them.”

Mrs Colahan’s other advice for forage planning includes making use of Lallemand’s pre-cut grass testing service and making sure you have everything you need for silage-making, such as silage sheets and your inoculant, at least two weeks before you plan to make your first cut.

“Pre-cut testing helps to ensure 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.”

South West Farmer: Silage prep is key to first cut success, says Lallemand.Silage prep is key to first cut success,

Using an inoculant

When thinking about silage preservation in the clamp, Mrs Colahan says that the benefits of using an inoculant should not be overlooked.

“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.

“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 dry matters (DM).

“And while there’s an investment cost attached to using an inoculant, the cost is just a small part of the cost of silage making and will hopefully reduce the need to buy in concentrates.”

South West Farmer: Silage prep is key to first cut success, says Lallemand.

Clamp management

Mrs Colahan recommends that farmers should start thinking about how they are going to deal with available clamp space, sooner rather than later.

“You ideally need a nice clean empty clamp to hold your first cut and you should avoid burying any old poor-quality silage as this will lead to contamination.”

“Making grass silage is easy but making really good grass silage is incredibly difficult,” she adds.

“If silaging didn’t go 100% to plan last year, don’t give up on it. Think about what you could have done better and what went really well and use that information to plan for this silage season. Making incremental improvements in silage-making will add up to a big difference.”

Pre-cut testing targets

Parameters               Target

Sugars (% DM)            >15%

Free nitrates (DM)     <1,000mg/kg 

NDF (%DM)                  36-42%