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Three simple steps to help stock up on high quality homegrown forage

Three simple steps to help stock up  on high quality homegrown forage
  1. Silaging

A critical step in the feed process is capturing quality cut grass.

  • Pre-test for dry matter, nitrate and sugar content.
    • Aim for dry matter over 18 percent. If under 18 percent, then the crop is going to require a fast wilt if you are looking for over 25 percent dry matter in the silage.
    • Aim for a nitrate level below 1.5 percent or at least be equal to the water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC). Anything above indicates a level of fertiliser and/or manure left in the grass which can lead to the slowdown in fermentation and a higher chance of butyric fermentation.
    • Aim for a WSC level of 2.5 percent – 3 percent. If using an inoculant, you can generate enough sugar to fuel the fermentation even when WSC levels are the same as nitrates.
  • Grass should be cut when it reaches a digestibility value of 70 or a metabolisable energy level of 11 or more. Cutting grass at this moment can increase feed conversion efficiency, since the energy is denser; within one week, these numbers can decrease to a digestibility value of 67 or metabolizable energy of 10 or more.
  • To maximise production potential, achieve an aggressive wilt by tedding out grass within one hour of mowing. Aim for a minimum of 26 percent dry matter, but ideally between 32 percent and 34 percent dry matter.
  1. Ensiling

Clamp management is just as important as the quality of the grass. Here are some tips for ensuring successful clamp management:

  • The clamp must be clean, and all sides must be sheeted to reduce aerobic activity.
  • Compact the grass in thin layers to reduce the occurrence of air pockets, and focus most of your compaction efforts down the sides of the clamp. Have another tractor rolling at the same time as the buck rake is operating if possible.
  • Layer the grass as evenly as possible over the full length of the pit which will also improve consolidation and avoid slippage.
  • Whilst we appreciate it can be highly inconvenient, we advise that you sheet the clamp overnight to allow the grass to ferment and reduce unnecessary aerobic activity.  When revisiting the next morning, ensure the clamp is covered with a layer of grass before continuing to compact.
  • After filling the pit, carefully seal the grass in the clamp and sheet it down with the latest oxygen barrier sheeting technology. This is the most important step for facilitating a quick and effective fermentation. If possible, protect the silage from animal damage; birds and small animals often create holes in the top sheet. Put a net over the top of the sheet for extra protection.  
  1. Feeding

When it comes to cow performance, ongoing clamp management is just as important as the ensiling. Removing silage from the pit disrupts the clamp face at depths way beyond what is visible with significant aerobic activity.

  • A sheer grab or a silage cutter will make less of a disturbance around the removed silage block. Less disturbance means less aerobic fermentation, or “heating up”. The KEENAN self-propelled cutterhead is designed and tested to ensure that the forage structure is protected for reduced spoilage and optimum mix quality. 
  • At least once a year, use 10cm and 50cm temperature probes to assess if and where your clamp is heating. This will give you a better understanding of whether the process is working or could be improved. 
  • Take two silage samples — one being a representation of the top one-meter of the whole silage clamp and another from the centre of the face — to determine the dry matter percentage.
  • To deter the growth of microorganisms, the top sheet should only be folded back for feeding. Remove and discard any spoilt silage (i.e., on the top or side of the clamp) to reduce the likelihood of feeding mycotoxins and reducing fibre digestibility in the cow's rumen. 
  • Finally, don’t forget to process this year’s information to help you make better decisions and improve next year.

For more information on clamp silage and clamp management, please contact your KEENAN regional business manager today. 

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Ed Costerton – KEENAN Regional Business Manager, SW


Tel: 07824 304791