Manage your spring pasture surplus through making high quality silage

Tanya Hayes - AusWest Seeds, Hunter and Central West New South Wales

Grazing pasture is the most cost effective feed that you can use on farm, however seasonal conditions can affect the quality and amount of pasture that is readily available to your livestock which can limit production.

Many livestock production systems (be it dairy, beef or sheep), use pasture as their base but when pasture production declines they often feed supplements. By making silage, you take surplus forage from the spring and use it to fill these feed gaps during times of pasture deficit.

Using silage can be an excellent on-farm tool to increase production, reduce waste and improve your overall pasture quality. Silage allows you to take advantage of the pasture when it is at its optimum growth stage, especially in spring when there is excess feed that can be made into high quality product when making hay is impossible.

When thinking about conserving forage as silage there are some important considerations to take into account:
1. Is silage the most cost effective tool for my farm?
2. Do I have sufficient surplus pasture growth to produce silage?
3. How will silage usage change all other activities on the farm both good and bad – i.e.: rotational grazing, etc.
4. Are there any other implications on the profitability of my farming system by creating silage?
5. What climatic conditions are forecasted over the next 3-6 months and how will that affect my production systems?

There are a two options as to what type of silage you can produce;
a) Round bale silage
b) Pit silage

Round Bale Silage
Advantages and disadvantages of this system are:

  • Early cutting may allow for 1-2 extra cuts during the season
  • You can use the same machinery for this as for round hay bales
  • Bales can be stored in rows in the paddock for around 1 year. However if weather events or wildlife (birds, vermin etc.) create holes in the plastic sheeting, it may lead to spoilage and reduction of shelf life to approximately 6 months
  • Silage can be made from weather damaged hay (increased moisture levels of up to 60%) or early spring ryegrass (high quality and quantity levels) rather than waiting for dry weather to reduce moisture levels in hay. However due to this increased moisture with silage, baler blockages are more likely. Finer chopped silage results in higher quality
  • Bales can be fed out individually rather than opening a pit
  • You may have extra costs such as labour and plastic

Pit Silage
Pit silage has advantages and disadvantages:

  • If large quantities are required to be conserved, this is the most economical and efficient system as you are able to conserve large areas in a high capacity system
  • Can be stored long term while sealed – can be sealed with plastic with tyres to cover. You can open the pit to feed then stop and reseal it if required. Take care when resealing to minimise loss
  • There may be a pollution risk if the pit is near a water supply and high moisture silage is produced. However this is easily controlled by using drainage pipes to allow effluent to drain away effectively

Selecting the right type of pasture

When it comes to silage there are many options for producers. Ryegrasses, for example, are an important part of silage as they provide a large amount of feed in spring that is often underutilised so conserving the excess feed for other times of the year is most beneficial. The table below highlights how and when to use grass and clovers.

Key messages for producing silage:

  • Control under-utilisation of pasture by adjusting your rotation length and looking to remove paddocks from the grazing round. This controls both quality and quantity of surplus pasture and always aim for high quality conserved pasture as efficiently as possible while avoiding underfeeding.
  • Moving into the spring period when you have a surplus of grass is when making silage would be an excellent option.
  • Silage production is not a cheap exercise. It can be quite costly so take into account what your intended use will be. Weigh up the cost of creating silage versus the need for a high fibre supplement to feed to your livestock when they are grazing lush pasture or being fed a large portion of their daily feed as grain. This is an important part of deciding if making silage is right for you and your farm system.
  • As with all pasture requirements, you must start from the bottom up, the soil. Ensuring the soil has optimum fertility and a good base structure to begin with is crucial. Less than half of our farmers test their soils regularly to gather enough information to discover what is happening under the surface first. If the foundations aren’t strong, silage yields will be compromised and reduced.

For more information please contact our Stephen Pasture Seeds or AusWest Seeds team.

1. Ag Guide: A practical Handbook; Pastures in a Farming System. NSW DPI, Tocal College, Tocal NSW, 2014
2. Feeding Pastures for Profit program; Phil Shannon, 1999 & 2016
3. Beef and Sheep BRP Manual 5, Making Grass Silage for Better Returns”; Better Returns Program, AHDB Beef and Lamb, Stoneleigh park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK, 2015
4. “Winter cereals for silage”; 3030 Project; VIC DPI, DA & University of Melbourne, 2010
5. “Successful silage – Silage in a farming system, Chapter 1. B.M.Doonan, A.G.Kaiser, D.F. Stanley, I.F. Blackwood, J.W.Piltz, A.K.White; DPI Water and Environment Devonport, Tasmania; DPI Wagga Wagga, Ag Institute Wagga Wagga, NSW; DPI Cowra, Agricultural research and advisory station, Cowra NSW; DPI Tocal, Tocal Agricultural Centre, Tocal NSW

Pasture Table
Ref: "Beef and Sheep BRP Manual 5, Making Grass Silage for Better Returns"; AHDB, UK  

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