As the weather improves, silage preparation is well underway on Irish farms, with most farmers having already applied slurry and fertiliser for their first cut. In approximately a month’s time, many farmers will be hoping to begin dropping crops, but before silage can begin, there are a number of things to tick off the to-do list.
Ahead of the harvesting of silage crops, it is important to have the yard prepared for the arrival of the crop. Farmers should make contact with their contractor to outline when they are hoping to cut and ensure that they are placed on their list. The earlier a farmer can make contact with their contractor, the better.
For most, the feeding of silage is over for now, and it is time to start cleaning the pit for this year’s crop. Anything in the silage pit should be removed, and the floor and walls should be power-washed to remove any dirt or material that may be there. Some materials on the walls or floors of the silage pit could have an impact on silage quality. Farmers should also look at ordering or purchasing pit covers, so when the time comes, they are ready and don’t have to worry about getting one then.
Ahead of silage season, farmers should also be completing any maintenance required on their machinery. Although most farmers will use a contractor, some will not, and for those not using a contractor, it is vital to ensure machinery is ready to work. Start with the tractor and check that it is up to date with its services, after which the mower should then be checked. Check the blades to ensure they are not damaged, and that grease has been applied to all the areas that require it. Any other machinery that farmers may or will be using for silage harvesting should also be checked to ensure it is ready once they get the weather to cut.
When it comes to cutting silage, timing is crucial. Farmers should aim to cut when the grass is at its most nutritious, which is when it is in the vegetative stage. This is when the grass is growing leaves and stems but has not yet developed seed heads. The ideal time to cut is when the grass is between 25-35% dry matter.
Once the grass has been cut, it should be left to wilt for a few hours before being turned. This will help to remove some of the moisture, making it easier to compact and reducing the risk of effluent. Farmers should aim to have the silage pit filled and compacted within 24 hours of cutting, to prevent spoilage and ensure maximum nutrient preservation.
Compaction is key when it comes to silage quality. Farmers should use a tractor or roller to compact the grass as much as possible, ensuring that there are no air pockets. This will help to reduce the risk of spoilage and improve the quality of the silage.
Once the pit is full, it should be covered with a pit cover to prevent air and water from entering. This will help to preserve the nutrients in the silage and prevent spoilage. Farmers should ensure that the pit cover is securely fastened, and that there are no holes or gaps where air or water can enter.
Overall, the key to successful silage making is preparation, timing and attention to detail. By following these steps and ensuring that everything is in order before cutting, farmers can maximise the quality and quantity of their silage, ensuring that their livestock have a nutritious and balanced diet throughout the winter months.