Back Pasture silage process worth close attention

Date: 17 August 2017

New Zealand pasture is known for its ability to create great milk, but what about pasture silage?

While poor-quality silage is, at best, an expensive filler for cows, high-quality pasture silage is a valuable supplement that increases milk production and condition score gain.

Making high-quality pasture silage requires a combination of quality pasture, excellent fermentation, and excellent stack or bale and feed-out management.

As making poor quality silage costs the same as producing high-quality silage, it’s in a farmer’s best interests to invest time in the silage-making process this spring. Cows consuming high-quality pasture silage have been shown to produce 0.22kgMS/cow/day more than their herd mates consuming low-quality pasture silage. At a $6.50/kgMS pay out, this equates to an increased return of almost $1.50 per cow, per day – making a little extra attention to the pasture silage-making process worthwhile this spring.
So, what do farmers need to do to “get it right?”

The first step is harvesting at the right time. The feed value of the ryegrass plant drops rapidly as it enters its reproductive phase – as much as 0.3 MJME/kgDM per week of closure. It is important that pasture silage is harvested no later than 35-40 days after the last grazing, or when a maximum of 10 percent of the ryegrass seed heads have emerged.

Leave the cut grass in paddock until it has wilted to at least 28% dry matter, as this substantially reduces the chance of leachate being produced.  While leachate contains a lot of nutrients which are great for the cow, if it enters any water way, it has a terrible effect on the stream life.

Secondly, adding a quality silage inoculant at harvest time is crucial. Quality silage inoculants contain the right strands of lactic acid-producing bacteria to ensure a good fermentation, reducing fermentation losses and improving silage quality.

Trials showed that Pioneer® brand 1127 inoculated pasture silage gave 30 litres more milk per tonne, and generated a return of more than $4.34 per dollar invested.

To ensure you are buying a superior-quality inoculant, look for four things: guaranteed bacteria numbers on the label, trial data that shows the inoculant works, proven application technology, and a company which understands silage and can help you get the best return from it.

Thirdly, once the silage is harvested, ensure it is compacted and sealed correctly. For stacked silage, spread the material into 100-150mm layers and compact until the surface is firm. Use a high-quality plastic cover and weigh it down with tyres that are touching. Seal the edges with sand or lime.

For baled silage, use high-quality wrap and apply it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.