Farmers looking to make better silage in 2021 to reduce reliance on bought-in feeds should start planning now to allow time for appropriate actions according to Volac silage specialist Ken Stroud.

He said producers should first look at examining the analysis of their 2020 silage and at areas requiring improvement.

“If metabolisable energy (ME) is low, swards may have deteriorated to include less nutritious grasses, making some reseeding necessary."

Alternatively, the way silage is made may need attention, he said, which could mean cutting grass younger while it’s more digestible, wilting faster to minimise in-field energy losses, or improving fermentation so that energy is conserved better in the clamp.

"The average ME of UK silage has been static at about 10.6 for years. We should be aiming for an absolute minimum of 11,” he said.

If using a contractor for silaging, Mr Stroud says early and regular communication with them is key. For good silage, grass needs mowing and harvesting at its nutritional peak, not a week or two later. After heading, grass digestibility falls by about 0.5% a day.

Furthermore, he added that farmers need to understand a contractor’s time constraints and they need to inform them of theirs.

"If you’re making changes to your silage making policy – for example cutting earlier because you’re moving to multi-cut silage – they need to know. It’s amazing how many farmers call contractors at the last minute.

“If you're making silage yourself, ensure all machines are fully working and serviced – again to minimise quality-reducing delays.”

The silage clamp also has to be prepared, as the ‘storage container’ for your forage for at least half a year.

He said many farms had problems with silage heating in 2020, which happens when air gets in and allows growth of yeast and mould. Some of this was because silage was made too dry, or because weak walls prevented clamps being consolidated to the edges, leaving air gaps.

As well as cleaning clamps, Mr Stroud urged farmers to repair the walls of silage pits.

And, he advised ensuring sufficient amounts of the correct additive are available to ensure good preservation.

“The final few grass loads on top of the clamp are the most vulnerable to spoilage. Yet these will be the ones left untreated if additive is short.

"If making silage up to 30% dry matter (DM), look for an additive to improve fermentation, such as Ecosyl. For drier or more fibrous silage where heating is a concern, consider a dual-acting additive such as Ecocool, designed to improve fermentation and inhibit yeasts and moulds. Similarly, ensure you have enough sheeting to keep the clamp airtight, not just for the top but also for lining the walls.”

Map out everything you need for good silage, but also have a plan B in case something changes. For example, the weather can be notoriously fickle, he notes.

“If it turns wet, be prepared to set the harvester to chop grass longer to stop clamp slippage. If it’s dry, you may need to chop shorter so it’s easier to compact. Remember, grass could be 30% DM when you start harvesting, but 35% DM once the sun has been on it longer. Again, this could affect the last few loads on top of the clamp.

“Similarly, have a plan B if it looks like you’ll be short of silage: this could include ensiling some cereal as wholecrop. Even if you end up with plenty of silage later, you’ll be better off because you’ll have carryover stock for the future,” he adds.