“We have become accustomed to mild wet winters but this year most areas have seen hard frosts and some periods of snow cover,” says Pioneer’s Jonathan Bellamy, Northern UK sales manager.

“On the positive side, the cold weather should have reduced disease levels of mildew, crown rusts and drechslera. This factor in combination with slower winter growth should mean less of the low quality “thatch” in the bottom of swards.”

With 1st cut silage only a matter of days away, we asked Jonathan his top tips to improve silage preservation and quality this coming season.

Delayed Slurry and Manure Applications:

If slurry or manure applications have been delayed due to soil conditions then extra care is required to avoid contaminating silage with the manure residues. This may require a delay in cutting or a higher cutting height. Manures carry the chlostridia bacteria that are one of the major causes of detrimental silage fermentation resulting in butyric silages with high dry matter losses and low intake characteristics.

Frosts Reduce Plant Bacteria Numbers:  

Research has shown that, following periods of low temperatures, the populations of bacteria on the grass crop is much reduced. If silage inoculants are not applied then growers are reliant on these naturally occurring populations of Lactobacillus plantarum to dominate the fermentation. If they are not present in large numbers then the chances of a chlostridia type of fermentation increases.

Avoid Soil Contamination:

It has been estimated that one gram of soil contains more micro organisms than there are human beings on Earth! Amongst these are many millions of bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi and thousands of micro-algae and protozoa.

A clean crop of grass will have an analysis with an ash content of close to 7.5%. Anything higher than this should be a concern as it shows that the silage has been contaminated with soil or manure. A silage showing an 8.5% ash content has approximately 3,000 grams of soil contamination per tonne of freshweight Soil microorganisms play an extensive role in the decomposition of organic matter and production of humus which is why gardeners are encouraged to mix soil with their grass clippings if they want to speed up the production of good quality compost!

Over Wilting Grass Crops:

Many farmers are seeking to improve the quality of their silage by cutting at an earlier growth stage and wilting. The yields of these high quality crops will be lower and therefore a higher proportion of the crop will be exposed to the sun and wind and drying rates will be increased. Care needs to be taken that the ensiled grass is not above 40% dry matter at harvest as the likelihood of unstable silage increases. High dry matter silages (even when they are leafy) are more challenging to compact and so heating during feed-out can be a major cause of energy loss. Ironically, those high quality silages with high sugar contents are more susceptible to heating due to the plentiful supply of carbohydrates for the yeasts.

Summary

The cold winter and slow spring will require some management adjustments to help ensure top quality grass silage is made. With lower residual grass bacteria counts and the potential risk of chlostridia contamination there is the potential for silage fermentations to be dominated by damaging microbes with detrimental effect on silage quality and milk yields. The application of a suitable Pioneer additive will help ensure that the silage and the fermentation is dominated by the bacteria specifically selected to enhance the fermentation and minimise the energy losses through heat losses at feed-out. Top quality silage is the foundation for cost-effective milk production.

Contact your sales manager or via the website for advice on the most suitable additive to improve your crop quality this season.