Dairy farmers who harvested this year’s first-cut grass silage crops early should seize the opportunity to take subsequent cuts just as promptly, in a bid to push up forage quality and potential milk yields.

Many farmers cut early this season following the mild start to the year, and this, according to Ecosyl silage specialist, Colin Callender, now leaves two courses of action for producers.

“Farmers can take subsequent cuts at the normal time, to end up with the usual number of cuts over the season. Or, they can take subsequent cuts early and end up taking more, smaller cuts over the year," said Mr Callender, who urged growers to opt for the second as grass would be more leafy, of better quality and of higher digestibility and metabolisable energy content.

“Keeping quality up is what’s needed to produce more milk from silage. After heading, digestibility falls by 0.5% per day, and a 1% reduction in digestibility equates to a milk yield reduction of 0.37 litres per cow per day.

“By taking smaller cuts but more of them, you could also end up with the same total silage yield over the season as from taking larger but fewer cuts.”

Mr Callender said he had already detected increased interest among farmers to improve silage quality through more regular cutting, even before the growing season turned out to be early.

This, he said, is probably due to last year's second-cut silage which was harvested late because of the weather, which resulted in more bought-in feeds having to be purchased to supplement a poor quality silage produced.

“You’ll probably need to pay a bit more attention to detail to preserve silage if you take multiple, early cuts because grass will be lusher, wetter and could contain higher nitrate levels that buffer the fermentation. But the extra quality should outweigh any extra effort," said Mr Callender.

“Techniques such as wilting quickly to conserve as much sugar as possible in the grass, achieving the correct dry matter, achieving good clamp consolidation so that fermentation starts promptly, and using a quality additive, will all help."

He said a quality lactic acid bacterial additive can improve digestibility by an average of 3 D units when compared with untreated silage in trials, and also boost metabolisable energy, however he urged producers to check that the additive is proven to improve milk yield.

“Clearly, dry weather will hold back grass growth. But fields that were cut early seem to have recovered well because they still had enough moisture in the ground.

“Heavy dews also help with re-growth, and younger leys and shorter grass also seem to tolerate drier conditions better than grass that’s left to grow longer and goes yellow at the base.

“The guiding principle is to see how well grass has recovered from the previous cut when deciding when to cut it next,” concluded Mr Callender.