Following earlier rainfall, warmer temperatures and generally lower numbers of stock across the region some producers are now considering silage as an option for storing excess feed.
Central West Local Land Services mixed farming advisor Callen Thompson said while excess feed was a good problem to have there were a number of things to keep in mind before trying silage for the first time.
“Particularly if they have sown grazing crops or their cereal crops have started to run up growers are looking at their options to conserve this fodder for future use or create a saleable product to help with cash flow,” Mr Thompson said.
“Silage can be a great fodder source used to fill gaps in feed supply,” he said.
The growth stage of the crop, what the silage will be used for and how it will be made were all important considerations for producers, he said.
“Oats should be cut at booting to flowering whereas wheat and barley should be cut at booting to mid-dough.”
If cut at the right time, silage can retain much of the crops fodder quality, unlike hay which decreases in quality through the haymaking process, he said.
“At this time of year you need to know if you will be able to dry the cut material quick enough to ensure feed quality.
“You may need to wait until daytime temperatures start to increase.”
The decision on whether to produce bales or chopped silage would also depend on how much would be used at a time and whether it would be used on farm or sold, he said.
“Bales can be a better option if you only want to feed out small amounts at a time.
“Wrapped bales can be sold off farm more easily, but keep in mind the higher water content compared to hay in relation to transport costs.”
Chopped silage is often put in large bunkers or pits. In large operations like a feedlot or a dairy, the silage is often used within short periods, but for mixed farms, it is often stored for longer periods to get through feed gaps or drought, he said.
Jason and Kylie Catts run Futurity Shorthorn Stud and a cattle trading operation at ‘Glen Ayr’, Baradine and have used silage stored in pits in their operations for around 12 years.
“We grow silage annually and use it for when we wean our calves or need to take pressure off pastures and also for drought mitigation,” Mr Catts said.
“It helps us reduce the age of turnoff and keep production going even if the seasons are against us.”
The Catts usually use barley or oat crops for silage and engage a contractor to make the silage for them.
Being able to preserve the quality of the product, the storage options and cost effectiveness are the key benefits of silage over hay, he said.
“It’s cheaper than making hay and the quality is better because you maintain the quality from when it was cut to when you feed it out.
“There’s also agronomic benefits for your crop because you can cut silage at an earlier stage and reduce the weed burdens.
“Compared to hay the chance of spoilage is pretty much zero when it’s done property because its chopped, rolled and in the pit.”
Historically they have made 3,000 tonnes of silage annually, extending to 4,500 tonnes when seasons permit and are able to store it on farm.
“You’d need a big shed to store that much hay,” he said.