Livestock producers say they do not look back once they switch to multi-cut silage.
Multi-cut silage is not just for dairy producers, according to Agrovista agronomist Lisa Hambly.
She says the benefits of cutting grass silage five or six times a season outweigh the costs involved to such an extent that it is worth undertaking multi-cut for sheep and beef producers, as well as dairy.
Key to the system’s success is cutting young grass and maintaining silage at a metabolisable energy (ME) of more than 11.5 from the first cut in late April to the last in October.
This means a far higher quality, as well as quantity, of grass will be cut than in a typical two- or three-cut system, offering the potential for more milk or meat from forage and a reduction in concentrate use.
She says: “Even a small increase in ME from 11 to 11.8MJ/kg DM represents 2,000 extra litres of milk per acre. For a beef or sheep producer, liveweight gain from forage would increase accordingly.”
However, reaching this point requires close attention to detail and the treatment of grass like an arable crop.
To begin with, Mrs Hambly says soils should be tested for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur and a cross-section of minerals, and similar tests applied to the farm’s slurries.
Once slurry applications have been calculated, with bagged fertiliser to top this up, the target cutting date should be decided and the application date determined accordingly.
She says: “You are aiming to be nitrate-free by your cutting date to avoid an undesirable butyric fermentation.”
As a rule of thumb, she says you should need 1kg of nitrogen per acre per day of growth. Getting contractors on board is another part of the plan and this should be organised in good time. Just before cutting, a fresh grass test using nitrate strips or a lab will show whether levels in the crop are too high.
At cutting time, Mrs Hambly recommends a good quality additive as an insurance, as ‘one of the multi-cuts is sure to be catchy’ and it will reduce the potential for heating if silage is dry.
She says: “Sugars are likely to be lower at the shoulders of the season and this too will challenge a good fermentation.”
Aiming for a dry matter of 30 per cent, which may involve tedding twice for first cut, she says the overall process is likely to lift ME by about half-a-point.
Noel Richards says he is saving half-a-tonne of concentrate per lactation on each of his 750 Holstein Friesians, following a switch to multi-cut silage.
Mr Richards, who farms at Coedmoelon Farm, Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire, agrees the saving more than offsets extra management time and higher contractor charges the regime demands.
After hearing about potential benefits, he increased to four cuts in 2016 and 2017, and achieved five last year, a feat likely to be repeated in 2019 with two cuts already in the clamp.
Growing the right varieties well is key. “We treat our grass like an arable crop,” says Mr Richards, who relies on high-yielding, vigorous festulolium and rye-grass hybrids to ensure early growth and rapid post-cut recovery.
He says: “We want taller grasses with big leaves that soak up more sunshine and plenty of stem for fibre. We aim for three to four years before reseeding and we will stitch-seed where appropriate.”
Timing of operations is also critical and fertiliser spreading and harvesting are entrusted to a long-term contractor to get the job done efficiently and quickly.
Mr Richards says: “Grass yields are similar to the old system, but quality is better. We have maintained our target yield of 10,500-11,000 litres. I believe multi-cutting is paying off.”