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Farmers warned to prepare ahead to reduce silage shortages next winter

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Last year there were severe shortages of winter forage due to poor grass growth in the spring and summer of 2010 leaving many farmers facing increased costs for bought-in feed. If the current dry spell continues this spring a similar prospect may be in store this coming autumn/winter but experts at the Silage Advisory Centre believe that the impact could be significantly reduced by better control of dry matter losses between harvests and feed out.

Farmers cant control the weather but forward planning for the coming harvest season could help reduce silage shortages next winter, explained Dr Dave Davies, independent scientist for the Silage Advisory Centre.

Respiration in the silo, mould or aerobic deterioration can all be minimized with good pre-season preparation and silage management, and by taking a closer look at the performance of different ensiling systems when it comes to dry matter loss.

According to Dr. Davies typical dry matter (DM) losses in a clamp can be between 25 and 40% compared to only 0.2 to 8% for bales, and for maize silage 15-30% losses are common. As much as 10% can be lost during feed-out alone.

Some losses always occur whether its spilling during harvest or feed-out, or fermentation and effluent during storage, but by thinking well ahead farmers could still reduce significantly their dry matter loss and end up with more silage to feed, Dr Davies continued.

Davies pre-season tips include starting the growing season with a clean sward without dead plant matter. Clearing the sward increases crop growth rates, meaning better yields, and reduces undesirable microorganisms that can later increase the risk of mould. Farmers should also ensure the sward is tightly grazed, and control mole hills.

He also recommends cutting the crop when its dry to help avoid soil or manure contamination, and leaving wide swathes to encourage quicker wilting (a maximum of 24 hours for grass and 48 hours for legumes).

Different ensiling processes can also help to reduce loss. A recent research project by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) comparing the exact same crop ensiled in bale versus clamp showed losses of 177 g/kg DM in the clamp (original DM of 207g/kg) compared to only 117 g/kg DM in the baled system (original DM of214 g/kg).

Whichever method is chosen, losses can be further avoided by aiming to ensile at greater than 27% DM

and protecting clamps and bales from bird and vermin attacks, added David Craig, managing director of

the Silage Advisory Centre. Wrapping bales within two hours and at the storage site will also support

loss prevention; with silos, filling evenly, ensuring good compaction as you go and sealing quickly will

help.

More information can be found at www.silageadvice.com, which provides farmers with down to earth,

pragmatic advice and tools to maximise fodder and grassland management systems using baled silage

effectively.

About the Silage Advisory Centre

The Silage Advisory Centre promotes the science of silage to aid farmers decision-making on bale silage production, forage and grassland management. Its mission is to aid UK and Irish livestock farmers produce quality and nutritional silage at a reasonable profit through research, seminars, knowledge transfer and advisory tools. For more information, please visit www.silageadvice.com

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