Over two thirds of Irish farmers make baled silage each year and on many cattle farms in particular it is the silage making system of choice.
The quality of the silage made on these farms is determined by the grass it is made with. Grass that has been recently reseeded with Ryegrass and harvested at the correct time will produce highly digestible, leafy silage with values over 70% + dry matter digestibility, whereas strong, overgrown and stemmy grass will only be 60% digestible and is not capable of generating high animal performance in terms of weight gain.
Unfortunately we are still producing too much of the poorer silage on Irish farms today.
In many cases the costs of producing excellent silage or bad quality silage is the same but obviously the rewards are considerably greater with good quality feed.
Aim to mow when grass is dry and easier to preserve; ideally, cut grass in the afternoon when sugars are highest and monitor the weather forecasts and try to mow during a spell of dry, sunny weather. When planning your silage cut, wait until the dew has evaporated to help with the wilt.
Aim for a wilt of 24 – 36 hours to improve preservation and reduce effluent production; it also has the added benefits of reducing the number of bales per acre thus reducing costs in the long run and if the grass crop is heavy or drying conditions limited, use the spreading/tedding option. Spreading maximises the quantity of grass exposed to the sun and air while the extent of ground cover following sward treatment has the biggest effect on drying rate.
Aim to produce dense well shaped bales: try to ensure that the sward is full width when entering the mouth of the baler - well shaped bales are easier to wrap properly and handle without causing damage.
Aim to wrap bales within three hours after baling and ensure adequate plastic film is used; wrapping should be done in accordance with manufacturer instructions - wrap a minimum of four layers of film, however six layers of film may result in less moulding and a longer shelf life. Colour of plastic should have no effect on baled silage quality however, black seems to be preferred option on most Irish farms today.
Ideally, transport your bales to the storage area and wrap them there; unfortunately this is often not practical on many farms today. Move field wrapped bales to storage area immediately as this will reduce the risk of bird damage in the field and will also allow for more efficient and simpler handling of the bale. Many farmers draw/paint their bales in a bid to repel the threat of bird damage but quick removal is the best option.
Store wrapped bales on a level smooth hard surface with good access so that the bales can be easily retrieved. Remove bushes, briars and low overhanging branches. Under Cross Compliance Regulations, bales cannot be stored within 20 metres of a waterbody or watercourse.
Fence off bales from all livestock and wildlife. Many farmers use a combination of netting and tyres to protect their bales from bird attack. Farmers storing arable silage may need to have rat bait points in the storage area and must comply with all relevant regulations.
Inspect bales regularly and any damage should be immediately repaired using appropriate adhesive tapes. Noticing holes at time of feeding is a little late!
On a final note, try to notify your silage contractor in plenty of time and make him aware of your plans, as it can be extremely busy and pressurised time for all concerned.
For more information contact Teagasc in Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021), Roscommon Town (Tel: 090 6626166) and Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160). You can find us on Facebook @Teagascroscommonlongford.