If you plan to cut your winter cereal crops for silage, timing is everything, according to NSW DPI pasture production technical specialist Neil Griffiths.
He said cereal crops could be made into any type of silage and the chop length, wilting and compaction was similar to pasture or rye-grass silage.
‘‘To get the best quality silage, cereals should be cut early at the boot stage of growth and wilted at the correct dry matter level,’’ Mr Griffiths said.
‘‘In round numbers, 35 per cent of dry matter is needed if chopped for pit or bunker silage and 45 per cent dry matter, if baled.
‘‘Wheat, barley or triticale can be also be direct harvested for chopped silage at the dough stage of grain development if high yield is wanted and lower quality is acceptable.
‘‘Oats can be direct harvested but the drop in feed quality is likely to be greater than in other cereals.’’
If a good season occurs and there is an opportunity to store silage, Mr Griffiths said the wilting process needed to be sped up.
‘‘If we get good crops and the opportunity to store silage then it will be necessary to speed up wilting using conditioners, which spread the feed across the paddock rather than putting it straight into a windrow,’’ he said.
‘‘And then use a tedder to turn and spread the feed laying on the ground.
‘‘The quicker the silage can be made the better the feed quality, provided it is wilted to the correct dry matter level.’’
However if the season is too wet or dry, problems can occur.
‘‘If the crops are too wet, we risk poor fermentation in pits or bales and if it’s too dry, pit silage is hard to compact but baled silage is usually okay provided the baler packs it tight,’’ Mr Griffiths said.
‘‘If crops are drought-affected, the same basic principles apply, however, despite lower yields it is often found that feed quality can be higher than average in drought-affected crops provided the decision to cut is before the crop loses quality.
‘‘This especially applies to canola. Beware, canola in wrapped bales is only suitable for very short-term storage as it has been observed to cause early plastic breakdown.’’
While some silage growers would use inoculants to help with the issues above, Mr Griffiths said they were best used as the ‘‘icing on the cake’’.
‘‘With any silage, inoculants will improve fermentation and feed quality,’’ he said.
‘‘Although some people use inoculants to help when they have problems, the use of inoculants is actually most profitable when they are used to make good silage even better.
‘‘The best result is when a good crop is well made using all the basics, especially a quick wilt to the required dry matter, good compaction and sealing.
‘‘The inoculant is the icing on the cake but we want a good cake first.’’