Big bales silage as a grazing management tool

Published 4 July 14

Big bale silage as a grazing management tool

Making baled silage from excess grass on the grazing platform seems fairly standard practice this year, with most people experiencing good growth rates and finding grass getting ahead of the cows, says Chris Duller, independent soil and grassland consultant.

It is still true that making baled silage, in order to help with grazing management and to reinstate good residuals, still works out at twice the cost as grazed grass. So it is vital that quality and fermentation are as good as possible and that the bales are looked after to minimise wastage.

As soon as you decide that grass has got too strong for grazing – cut it. Waiting for it to bulk up will reduce quality. Cut as soon as possible and the paddock will be back in the grazing round later this month.

You need to cut to a height that you would want your cows to graze down to – around 5 or 6cm. If you leave a longer stubble then you will struggle to achieve your residual targets in following grazings.

The same rules apply for baled silage as for clamp; good quality grass, a rapid wilt, avoid soil contamination, consolidate properly and seal well.

The recent dry spell should mean good ground conditions and most will achieve wilting times of 24hrs. This short wilting time means you minimise dry matter loss and the breakdown of proteins. Spread the cut grass as wide as you can in the swath and move it as little as possible. There is a good chance there will be some dung pats from the last grazing that you don’t want to kick up with the rakes. 

Bales should ideally be a minimum of 30% dry matter so that they don’t distort when wrapped and stacked. Ideally, move your bales unwrapped and wrap and stack in the yard. If this isn’t possible make sure you move wrapped bales from the field as soon as possible to avoid bird damage. Because some damage is inevitable when moving wrapped bales, check carefully for any holes and patch immediately.

Four layers of wrap should be a minimum but six is really what you should use to reduce mould and make sure that the silage keeps its quality, especially as it may not get used this winter. Remember, bales aren’t cheap to make, so make sure quality is as good as possible and that you store and look after them well.

 For more information about big bale quality, handling and storage see chapter nine of DairyCo Grass+, Managing Silage Making and the factsheets on the Silage Advisory Centre website.