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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 24 Sep 2018

Sam Flight

Register: 2-day TopFodder silage workshop 8-9 October, Smithton

With the high price of concentrates (grain or pellets) this season, it is more important than usual for dairy farmers to ensure they are making high quality silage.

Supplementing with high quality silage will allow cows to maintain, or increase, milk production during their lactation, and this can offset some of the need for more expensive concentrates.

High quality silage will have 10.5 to 11 megajoules of metabolisable energy per kilogram of dry matter (MJ ME/kg DM). Poorer quality silage means lower production and potentially increased need for more expensive and higher energy supplements.

To put a dollar value on this, improving the quality of 200 tonnes of silage from 8 MJ ME/kg DM to 9 MJ ME/kg DM will deliver a $5,600 increase in milk production when milk is valued at 30 cents a litre.

If storage losses are reduced from 25 per cent to 10 per cent, income provided from the extra milk is further increased by over $10,000. Together, this is an extra $15,600.  How much extra investment is needed to achieve this potential gain? Possibly a new tedder which could be paid off in the first year’s savings.

You can make a difference to silage quality and the value of that silage by implementing best practice silage making. Best practice tips include:

  • Cut at the right stage – about three leaves or canopy closure and before seed head emergence. In spring, this would typically mean mowing a paddock around 30 days since it was last grazed. Leaving pasture too long before mowing means more drymatter (quantity), but lower energy and higher fibre.
  • Mow once the morning dew has lifted.  A dew can contain one to two tonne water and is more easily evaporated if the crop is still standing.
  • Bale within 24–48 hours. Use a tedder immediately after baling and again in the afternoon or next morning once the dew has lifted. If using a mower-conditioner, leave the swath boards as wide as possible (quicker wilt). Aiming for 40 to 50 per cent drymatter at bailing.
  • Bale well compacted and dense bales. A 1.2 m x 1.2 m (4′ X 4′) bale should weigh 650–750 kg wet weight. Bales well under these weights contain too much air (lost DM and quality) and cost more per tonne to harvest, store and feedout.
  • Use a silage additive. These are especially worth the money invested if the pasture is slightly too wet and wilting conditions are not going to allow the DM content to reach 40+ per cent DM.
  • Wrap within 1–3 hours after baling. The longer bales are without plastic, the greater the DM and quality losses.
  • Repair holes immediately after identifying. Use tapes specifically developed for use on stretchwrap plastic, not duct tape, and ensure the area is clean, dry, cool and that like coloured tape is applied.

The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is holding a two-day TopFodder workshop to share tips about how to make, store and feed-out quality silage. The workshop will be held at Smithton from 8-9 October.

For more information and to register, email Sam Flight or phone 0409 801 341.

By Sam Flight, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, and Frank Mickan, Pasture & Fodder Conservation Specialist