Having a plan to harvest some of your cereal crops for whole-crop cereal silage is a "no brainer" if you need to top-up tight grass silage stocks on dairy and other livestock farms, says silage specialist, Derek Nelson.
This, coupled with the drive to maximise the use of home-grown forages, makes whole-crop an obvious option, he maintains.
"We've seen in the past that whole-crop cereals have proved ideal silage where grass yields or quality levels have been low," says Mr Nelson. "If you are growing cereals and need to make up for grass silage shortfalls, it makes sense to consider ensiling at least some as whole-crop - rather than harvesting the entire crop as mature grain."
"Wholecrop wheat can deliver more dry matter per hectare than three cuts of grass in a dry year. Also, including whole crop as part of a mixed forage diet can increase dry matter intake, which is important for high yielding herds. Even if you aren't growing cereals, you can often buy standing crops."
As with all silage, Mr Nelson says getting the maximum feed value from whole-crop demands effective preservation - with many farmers opting to make fermented whole crop as a low cost and straightforward method.
"Fermented whole crop is a highly palatable and nutritious forage and can have starch contents as high as 35% of dry matter. Also, harvest can often be slotted in after second cut grass - which means you can assess grass silage stocks before deciding how much whole crop to make."
"Ideally, whole-crop for fermenting should be harvested when the grain is at the 'soft Cheddar cheese' stage but with no 'milk' detectable."
"Because of its relatively high dry matter, whole crop can be prone to aerobic spoilage during storage and at feedout, shown as heating. So it is well worth considering a dual-acting additive. The additive, Ecocool, for example, which was launched for exactly this purpose, contains the bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum strain MTD/1 for efficient fermentation plus Lactobacillus buchneri PJB/1 for reduced heating and spoilage."
When planning whole-crop harvest, Mr Nelson says aim to cut at a dry matter that gives a good balance between providing moisture and sugars for fermentation and good starch content in the grain to maximise its feed value. However, be careful not to miss the optimum harvest window, he says, since cereals mature rapidly, and dry matter can increase in hot weather by 2% a day.
"Although you can still achieve a good fermentation at dry matters up to 50%, particularly with a proven silage inoculant, the target dry matter should be 35-45 % DM. Harvesting at higher dry matters will affect digestibility whereas harvesting at lower dry matters will affect yield and starch levels."
"Chop length is also important. For optimum rumen conditions, diets must contain sufficient effective fibre." Mr Nelson adds.