Back Get more from your pasture silage

Date: 20 September 2016

Recently there has been an increased dairy industry focus on getting more out of pasture. Ian Williams, Forage & Farm Systems Specialist for Pioneer brand products believes farmers should also be focusing on maximising pasture silage quality.

“There is a huge variation in the quality of pasture silage made on New Zealand farms says Williams. “While high quality pasture silage is a valuable supplement for increasing milk production or condition score gain, poor quality silage is at best an expensive filler for dry cows”.  

Williams believes there are four key steps to maximising pasture silage quality. These are harvesting at the correct time, wilting to at least 28% drymatter, using a quality silage inoculant and consolidating and sealing the stack or bales properly.

“Pasture quality drops really quickly as ryegrass enters its reproductive phase. The key is to harvest pasture silage no later than 35-40 days after the last grazing or when a maximum of 10% of the ryegrass seed heads have emerged” he says. “You are better to harvest a light, high quality crop than a higher volume of poor quality feed”.

Wilting is important as most standing pasture is in the range 12-18% drymatter which is too wet to make silage.

“If you don’t wilt pasture to at least 28% drymatter, you will lose some of the most valuable nutrients as silage effluent” says Williams. “Wilting concentrates the sugars and you stand a much better chance of a good fermentation”.

Silage inoculants are another key step in ensuring a good fermentation. Added to the crop at harvest time they contain thousands of the right strains of lactic acid producing bacteria to ensure a good fermentation.

A proven inoculant can reduce fermentation and drymatter losses while at the same time improving silage quality. The end result is more milk or more meat and higher returns.

Trials have shown a number of inoculant products which are being sold in New Zealand simply don’t work.

Williams recommends farmers look for four things when choosing an inoculant. These are guaranteed bacteria numbers of 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.

Finally silage should be well compacted into the stack or bale and covered thoroughly to keep the air out. 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 bales silage, use high quality wrap and apply use the recommended stretch factor and number of wraps.

“It costs roughly as much to produce rubbish silage as it does to make high quality silage” says Williams. “Focusing on the silage making process this spring will really help improve your returns”.

For more information contact your local Pioneer representative. 


Ian Williams

Forage and Farm System Specialist