Over the next few months, we are going to follow four farmers in relation to silage-making.

We will look at how they fare out building silage stocks over the summer and what management decisions they are taking to make sure there is enough silage in the yard next winter.

The participating farmers are Kieran Henry, Co Sligo; William Jones, Co Longford; Sean Hayes, Co Clare; and Tommy Homes, Co Mayo.

The last few months have brought huge changes to all types of farms around the country.

Livestock farms are dealing with a huge rise in input costs, with the biggest rises coming across concentrates, fertiliser and diesel.

The full brunt of the increased cost of fertiliser has been felt in the last two months by farmers, while the concentrate increases will likely not be felt by many until next November when cattle are housed.

At the moment, two of the key objectives on drystock farms are keeping enough quality grass ahead of grazing stock and growing a sufficient crop of silage to feed out next winter.

Many farmers have reduced fertiliser applications due to the high costs. This is fine if you have reduced your stocking rate at grass and also plan on keeping less cattle next winter.

If, however, you plan on running the same amount of stock, this presents a problem.

Less fertiliser will mean less silage and less silage will mean more meal.

Ration prices

With talk of ration prices hitting €500/t, it will be a case of trying to reduce meal input rather than increase it. Silage costing 20c/kg DM is a lot cheaper than meal at 45c/kg/DM.

It’s important that a plan is in place now when something can be done about it rather than staring at an empty bale yard or bare back wall of a silage pit next February.

You are then a forced seller and that’s not a place you want to be, especially if the cattle trade is depressed at that time.

Tables 1 to 3 outline what you need to do in three simple steps.

Counting what you have, counting what you hope you will have and counting what you need is what needs to happen in the next week. Updating this plan as you go through the first cut is important as you will still have time to take action.

Fill out Table 1 for your farm and assess where you are.

Tommy Holmes, Ballina, Co Mayo

  • Acres: 55.
  • System: Store to finish.
  • Fodder required: 200 silage bales plus straw.
  • Fodder left over: 60 bales (30%).
  • I’m using the same amount of fertiliser as I normally would. There are 7.5 acres earmarked for cutting next week. It was grazed with sheep over winter until Christmas.

    In late February it received two bags/acre of Top Phos, and was given 75 to 80 units of N in late March by spreading Nutri Cut (19-2.2-8.2 + S).

    It got a poor start in early spring, so I will bale it now at six to seven bales/acre, spread 2,000 to 2,500 gallons/acre of slurry using a dribble bar, along with fertiliser and take a second cut. I need good silage for finishing cattle.

    Sean Hayes, Tulla, Co Clare

  • Acres: 140.
  • System: suckling to finish.
  • Fodder required: 1,035t.
  • Fodder left over: 177t (17%).
  • I grazed the silage ground late up until 1 January and I spread 3,000 gallons/acre of watery cattle slurry on 20 January.

    I have some ground that didn’t get slurry but that got 1.5 bags/acre of 0:7:30. I followed up on all the 52 acres of silage ground with 90 units N/acre on 24 March. I would like to go in and cut this next week, if I can.

    I want good silage for autumn-calving cows and weanlings.

    Growth is really pushing on the grazing ground in the last week and we might take out a few paddocks next week as well.

    William Jones, Aughnacliffe, Co Longford

  • Acres: 125.
  • System: suckling to weanling/stores.
  • Fodder required: 615t.
  • Fodder left over: 90t (15%).
  • I let the weanlings out early in January and they grazed away at the silage ground until the beginning of March.

    It was grazed off tight and I spread 2,000 gallons/acre of a cattle/pig slurry mix in mid-March and I followed up with two bags of CAN/acre and closed it up on 4 April. I’m going to target to cut that around 19 May, if I can.

    I want good silage for weanlings to avoid paying big money for meal.

    I’ll suffer on quantity but I don’t want a big pit of bad silage and to have to be propping up performance with meal all winter.

    Kieran Henry, Tubbercurry, Co Sligo

  • Acres: 120 acres.
  • System: suckler beef and contract-rearing dairy heifers.
  • Fodder required: 700 bales.
  • Fodder left over: 80 bales (11%).
  • I have 22 acres closed for first-cut silage.

    It was grazed in March and then got 2,500 gallons/acre of slurry with a dribble bar system followed by two bags of 18-6-12/acre and a bag of protected urea/acre.

    I hope to be cutting within the next two weeks.

    The aim is for top-quality silage with the first cut for young stock and then I can let quality reduce for the cows in the second cut.

    With strong grass growth in the last 10 days I now have now nine acres of surplus grazing to take out at the first opportunity, hopefully in the next week.