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Multi-cut silage could put dairy farms in a stronger position to withstand the effects of drought on reducing grass growth, suggests a survey. Multi-cut silage helps dairy farms weather the effects of drought

Multi-cut silage could put dairy farms in a stronger position to withstand the effects of drought on reducing grass growth, suggests a survey.

The poll of more than 100 dairy farmers compared the impact of last year’s dry spring and summer on grass silage production. Some 55% of those questioned were taking up to three cuts a year, with 45% using a multi-cut system to take at least four cuts.

Conducted by Ecosyl, the survey set out to test the theory that an earlier start date to silaging with a multi-cut system means more silage has already been clamped if the weather turns dry later on.

Results revealed that by the end of May 2020, those making multi-cut had indeed made better progress. All had taken at least one cut, with 34% having taken two cuts, and 9% having taken more than two.

This high number of cuts compared with 10% of the conventional silage makers who had yet to start cutting at all by that date. Only 3% had taken two cuts and none had progressed any further.

Less anxiety

Ecosyl silage expert Jason Short said: “There also appeared less anxiety about silage quantity among the multi-cut group – with 11% reporting they had made more silage than normal by the end of May, versus only 5% saying this in the conventional group.”

In addition, some 64% of conventional makers expressed concern about the amount of silage they had made by then, suggesting it was not enough. This compared with only 57% of the multi-cut group.

“There was more widespread concern about possible tighter availability or higher prices for bought-in feeds last winter among conventional silage makers, with 78% expressing concern, versus only 57% in the multi-cut group.”

Some 22% of conventional silage makers said recent dry seasons had made them think more about making multi-cut, yet only 2% of multi-cutters said they could definitely envisage switching back the other way.

“All this suggests multi-cutters were more comfortable with their silage progress when the drought hit last season,” said Mr Short. There was also greater awareness among multi-cutters of methods for maximising silage quantity and quality

All bases covered

Although rain eventually returned in time for grass growth to resume in the latter part of last summer, Mr Short said such a turnaround could not be guaranteed in every dry season. This meant growers should be prepared for any eventuality.

A higher proportion of multi-cut farmers said they were paying more attention to wilting times to reduce in-field losses; applying an additive to preserve more dry matter; and improving clamp consolidation, sealing or weighting to reduce losses.

“Attention to detail makes a lot of sense, because recent research by our scientists showed that although multi-cut grass delivered a higher yield over a season than taking three cuts, and was higher in quality, it did benefit from looking after.”