Preparing Your Pit – The Last Preparations For First Cut

Grass samples tested last week showed low sugar levels, advises ruminant nutritionist Brian Reidy.

Thankfully, over the last week, plenty of farms grabbed the opportunity to get first-cut silage into pits and bales. Conditions were very good, and the grass harvested was of good quality. 

I tested a lot of grass last week, pre-harvest, and almost all were low enough in nitrates to be appropriate to cut. Sugars, however, were low, so an additive was and will be a good investment in the coming weeks.

Best practice pre-ensiling is to line the walls with new plastic to ensure the grass is stored as airtight as possible

Preparing The Pit

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to visit some top-class dairy and beef farms both at home and abroad.

One thing that has many of the best farms stand out in my mind is the attention to detail when it comes to how they ensile and manage their forages, be it grass silage, whole crop or maize silage.

Clean walls and floors are essential to avoid spoilage and aid rapid fermentation. Standard practice on these farms would be to have pits power-washed out well in advance of the new crop being ensiled, channels cleaned out and washed, and timbers or drainage pipes well maintained within them. 

Pre-ensiling, these yards will line the walls with new plastic to ensure the grass is stored as airtight as possible; this eliminates any oxygen that could come through cracks in mass concrete walls or joints in precast slab walls. 

That side sheet is pulled back over the silage before the two main sheets are put on top. Many now use a cling seal product on the surface under those two top layers. 

This cling seal layer softens with the moisture from the grass and sinks down into any hollows, creating an airtight oxygen barrier. Availability of plenty of weight is essential then on top of the plastic sheeting. 

Most still use tyres here, while on the continent, many now use the side walls of tyres rather than the whole tyre. What is now becoming very popular is the use of heavy mesh-type netting instead of a full cover of tyres.

Compacting The Pit Properly

It is so important that the farmer manages and controls how their pit is filled. You must emphasise to your contractor and loader driver, how important it is to fill and compact your silage as well as possible. 

Silage needs to be pushed up in shallow layers – not the full trailer in one go. Getting as much weight as possible onto the pit when rolling it will ensure that you keep as much oxygen out of the pit as possible.

This is key to reducing dry matter loss and optimising the feed value and animal performance from your grass silage. Some will aim to have a tractor rolling the pit along with the loader, and silo compactor-type implements are also becoming popular across Europe, and there are also some on farms in Ireland now too.

  • Brian Reidy is an independent ruminant nutritionist at Premier Farm Nutrition.

(Source – Irish Examiner – Farming – Brian Reidy – 14/05/2024)

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