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Manage Silage Quality for Better Milk Margins and Carbon Footprint

Lorna is part of the Farming for a Better Climate initiative run by SAC Consulting – (part of Scotland’s Rural College, (SRUC), which uses on-farm trials and industry expertise to help farmers across Scotland to introduce pragmatic and cost-effective measures to reduce the environmental impact of their enterprises as well as improving profit. 

“With feed costs still relatively high this year, it makes sense to maximise the potential of homegrown forage which is the cheapest and often largest part of the ration,” says Lorna. “This is a good time of year to decide how you will manage your silage. If by making some small, considered changes, you can reduce bought-in concentrates and fertiliser but produce the same or more milk through higher quality silage, you offset both costs and related emissions.” 

Lorna recommends looking at the different factors that influence the silage quality: firstly, cutting grass earlier is key to improving the digestibility and hence energy value. While overall yield will be lower with earlier cutting, this is a good option for those who currently have ample forage stocks or cereals to whole crop.

A difference can also be seen by continuously improving the farm’s soil status combined with annual analysis of slurry to check that applications are suited to the P and K in the soil, using only what bought-in fertiliser is needed: 

“Many farmers will have taken up the Preparing for Sustainable Farming (PSF) funding last year to have their soil analysed and will have a good idea of its state of health. By getting the slurry also analysed, you can adapt slurry applications appropriately and save unnecessary spend on buying in artificial inputs. For early cut silage, adding sulphur, which is not naturally available in the soil at this time of year, can boost yields by 10-15% as well as its nitrogen use efficiency which will improve the protein level.” 

It’s also a good idea to set aside fields for making silage specifically for dry cows which do not receive any slurry. Potassium from slurry can increase the risk of milk fever at calving when dry cows are fed a predominantly grass silage-based diet. In addition, the grass can be left to mature, with stemmier silage being more suited to the lower energy requirements of dry cows.  

While none of this is new, says Lorna, it’s good to think about ahead of cutting to see where you can make gains, taking an environmentally conscious approach, and being able to demonstrate that the business is contributing towards Scotland’s climate change goals, is looked on favourably by milk buyers, lenders and consumers.

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