Fodder conservation for spring

Prepare now in autumn

Tablelands Telegraph – May 2021

Phil Cranney – Senior Land Services Officer, Pastures

For many farmers in the Central Tablelands region, making silage and hay last year didn’t quite turn out as planned. The three W’s dramatically reduced the quality of fodder conserved in 2020:

  1. Weeds – annual grass weeds such as vulpia, seeded and died off quickly, dramatically reducing the digestibility of the silage or hay.
  2. Wind – the windy conditions throughout winter often prevented timely herbicide applications, again helping the weeds, especially Paterson’s curse and saffron thistle.
  3. Wet – the above average rainfall was certainly welcome, but also played havoc with best practice quality fodder conservation.

Too much feed and too few livestock is again the challenge facing many farmers this winter and potentially into spring. So how can we improve the quality of the fodder we conserve this spring?

Planning is crucial and the first step is paddock selection:

  • Prioritise “machinery friendly” clean paddocks, free of rocks, stumps, wire, holes, steep undulations, minimal paddock trees.
  • Proximity to silage pit, storage area or hay shed. Don’t underestimate fodder transport costs to store and feed out.
  • Single species crop/pasture selection if often easier to manage weeds and optimise quality at maturity. E.g. the thick stems of a forage brassica will take much longer to dry than clover.
  • Well drained soils and topography.
  • Soil fertility, current test and fertilise for optimal vegetative growth.

Often a level arable paddock close to storage and feedout areas that has either poor livestock water facilities or is never used for a lambing or calving paddock due to inadequate shelter can make the best fodder conservation paddocks.

Consider the following management options for growing the best quality forage this spring:

  • Time to re-consider oats as there is no way of controlling barley grass. Triticale, barley and dual-purpose wheat varieties have many pre-emergent herbicide control options for annual grass weeds.
  • In crops destined for hay or silage, aim to optimise plant density through narrow row spacing and/or higher seeding rate in order to out-compete early weed competition.
  • Timely weed control can make or break the quality and quantity of your fodder conservation paddock before it is cut. Therefore, regular monitoring of weed germination is essential.
  • Watch for pest and disease impact on crops. Seek professional advice on suitable application rates and safe withholding periods (feeding to livestock) for fungicides and insecticides.
  • Sub-clover dominant paddocks can make excellent quality hay. Ensure soil phosphorus, sulphur and molybdenum levels are adequate before or shortly after germination.

If you are using a contractor, ensure you implement the following simple steps for maintaining a good business relationship:

  1. Book in your job before the end of June, with details of the type of crop/pasture to be cut, approximate timing, area to be cut, location, machinery needed, cut height.
  2. In early spring, give the contractor an update on the approximate date the paddock will be ready and expected approx. yield.
  3. Discuss your expectations for fodder quality, target moisture content, optimal growth stage of pasture/crop.
  4. Ask for a copy of the contractor’s biosecurity controls to reduce the risk of weed or plant disease spread onto and out of your property.
  5. Outline your expectations of biosecurity control on your farm and what facilities you have to offer to reduce this risk.

For a more comprehensive guide to selecting a hay/silage contractor, please refer to this AFIA guide.

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