Article Summary: Silage plays a vital role in livestock feed and fodder preservation, ensuring our animals' well-being during periods of limited forage. So when should you do it? Understanding the right timing for silage harvest is critical for maximising its nutritional value and efficiently managing our farms. In this blog, we look at top tips for getting the timing right to maximise your harvest in volume and nutrient density. On top of this, we also explore each continent, their seasons, and how these factors impact silage harvest. By staying informed and being flexible in your approach, you'll promote efficient silage management and have healthier, happier herds.
Silage plays a vital role in livestock feed and fodder preservation, ensuring our animals' well-being during periods of limited forage. So when should you do it?
Understanding the right timing for silage harvest is critical for maximising its nutritional value and efficiently managing our farms. In this blog, we look at top tips for getting the timing right to maximise your harvest in volume and nutrient density. On top of this, we also explore each continent, their seasons, and how these factors impact silage harvest.
Take this advice and see your efficiencies improve. We look forward to hearing how you’ve achieved better farming outcomes!
What to consider when harvesting silage and cereals
You can ferment forage cereals in two ways
As a cut and wilted crop or
Direct cut and ensiled
The timing of your harvest should depend on the following
The end use of your silage—is it for animal production or maintenance rations?
Weather conditions at harvest—is it dry enough to harvest, or is the ground sodden after heavy rainfall? Are you experiencing frost?
Soil types and soil moisture conditions
The timing of sowing follow-up pasture in Spring
The timing of sowing follow-up pasture if double cropping
Whether you have suitable harvesting machinery available
The effect on your dry matter yield
You can harvest cereals in two ways
Flag leaf or boot
Typically broader than most, the flag leaf emerges as the final leaf just before the ear develops.
Within the flag leaf sheath lies the 'boot', which houses the emerging ear.
Following ear emergence, the flowering or anthesis phase begins, originating from the middle of the head and extending upwards and downwards. Up until this stage, the plant predominantly possesses vegetative leaves.
This method produces high-energy silage but generally lower yields—making flag leaf harvesting ideal when you need silage with high nutritional value.
Soft dough stage
This is the recommended stage to harvest forage cereals, as the plant reaches maturity and becomes hard grain.
Opting for a later harvest (hard grain stage) yields significantly higher dry matter but slightly lower energy and crude protein levels than the vegetative stage.
Blending cereals with peas and oats can enhance silage protein levels. However, the outcome depends on the seeding rate, species selection, and seasonal variations.
When harvesting a mixed cereal or leguminous crop, you can determine the timing by the maturity of the cereal component (soft dough) and the likelihood of lodging.
Wilt your crop before harvesting to boost its water-soluble carbohydrate concentration.
It’s also important to remember the implications of harvest time on other farming activities:
If taken off early, the weather may affect the ability to prepare paddocks for sowing and weed control.
Additionally, if you choose to harvest later in the soft dough stage, you may experience a lack of soil moisture. You may also miss out on follow-up rains for your follow-up crops.
If rains are likely in December or early January, you could opt for spring-sown forage cereals in some dairying areas.
Harvesting silage around the world
The optimal time for silage harvest varies across its vast landscapes. In the United States and Canada, silage is typically harvested during late summer to early fall (Autumn for us in the southern hemisphere!). At this point, crops reach the desired moisture content and peak nutritional value. Timing is essential, as early harvest may lead to reduced yield, while late harvest can compromise nutrient content and digestibility.
This continent experiences a range of climates, influencing the timing of silage harvest. In regions with temperate climates, like the United Kingdom and central Europe, the primary silage season falls between late spring and early summer.
Conversely, northern European countries have shorter growing seasons, so harvesting silage during summer's peak ensures ample feed reserves for winter.
South America offers diverse silage harvest opportunities due to its varying climates and harvests throughout the year in countries like Brazil and Argentina, thanks to their tropical climates. Farmers in this region must consider rainfall patterns carefully, avoiding excess moisture during the wet season, which could lead to suboptimal fermentation.
Here, the timing of silage harvest largely depends on the region's distinct climates. For countries experiencing wet and dry seasons, such as Kenya and Nigeria, the ideal silage harvest period often aligns with the end of the rainy season. This ensures crops are at their peak growth and nutritional content before being ensiled.
Asia's diverse climates impact silage harvest in various ways. Countries with monsoon seasons, such as India, will harvest hay during the dry period to minimise moisture content.
In contrast, nations with temperate climates, like China, follow similar timing to Europe, ensuring optimal forage quality.
Australia's unique climate affects silage harvest times.
In regions experiencing distinct wet and dry seasons, like Queensland and New South Wales, the best time for silage harvest aligns with the end of the rainy season, ensuring crops are well-nourished and ready for ensiling.
Mastering the art of silage harvest is vital for maximising the nutritional value of our livestock feed and ensuring a sustainable future for agriculture overall. Across continents and seasons, the right timing for silage harvest varies, but the principles of optimising moisture content and nutritional value remain constant.
By staying informed and being flexible in your approach, you'll promote efficient silage management and have healthier, happier herds.
Stay tuned for more helpful articles to help you get the most out of your farming operations!
Until we meet again, Happy Farming!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-07-20