Saving fodder this autumn

Date published: 27 October 2017

Broken weather and poor conditions have continued through September and October with little opportunity to harvest fodder to date. Small quantities of fodder have been saved by farmers picking their fields and working with relatively light-weight equipment where possible. At this stage in late autumn a question being asked by many farmers is what quality of fodder could be salvaged if there was a relatively dry spell of weather?

Ground conditions for salvaging winter fodder vary considerably across Northern Ireland.

Standing grass crops have very low dry matter, low ME, relatively high crude protein and buffering capacity as shown in Table 1. Grass of this quality will be difficult to ferment. Ground conditions also present the issue of soil contamination, adding further to the challenge of preserving this type of grass material. The keeping quality of silage made under these conditions may be poor. Therefore, it will be best to feed this material sooner rather than later.

Feeding fresh grass

An option in some cases is to feed grass as it is harvested either through zero-grazing equipment or by baling grass and feeding unwrapped bales directly to stock.

Table 1. Grass quality October 2017

2nd cut grass

17 Oct 2017

Heavy paddock grass

25 Oct 2017

DM (%) 10.7 17.8
Crude protein (%) 17.7 16.4
WSC (% Fresh) 0.3 2.8
ME (MJ/kg DM) 9.5 10.7
Buffering capacity (meq/kg DM) 320 332
Ensiling ease Difficult Easy / Moderate

Source: AFBI, Hillsborough

Practical considerations

Considering in advance how best to handle grass crops, if and when a weather window appears, may help better preserve fodder under marginal ground conditions:

  • Check tyre pressures and reduce to minimal recommended levels to optimise ground machinery carrying capacity
  • Mowing – raise the cutting height to leave a longer than normal stubble will help minimise grass contamination
  • Mowing with mounted rather than trailed machines can reduce wheeling on the headlands
  • If the field shape allows, mow continuously around the field towards the centre to reduce headland wheeling
  • Consider leaving headlands un-cut to improve carrying capacity of the ground
  • With short day-lengths at this stage of the season, grass will be slow to wilt
  • Older grass is very low in sugar content, 3% fresh weight is ideal for ensiling
  • Consider using a proven silage additive, suitable for difficult conditions
  • Some farmers will be planning to apply molasses at the silage pit to provide sugar for fermentation – molasses is 49% sugar, 20kg of molasses per tonne of grass fresh weight will provide 1% sugar per tonne fresh grass
  • Mow the grass into as narrow a swath as possible, or use an auto-swather if available, to let the ground surface dry between swathes
  • Raise the base height of pick-up reels on balers and harvesters to avoid lifting soil
  • If baling, use a lightweight baler and wrapper or allow the combo-baler to wrap and drop the bale before starting to form the next bale
  • Leave bales close to the field exit and if possible use a number of exit points to minimise repeated travel over the same area
  • Transport the bales to storage as soon as possible, as low dry matter bales will inevitably start to sag
  • If harvesting clamp silage, ensure where possible, that trailers are only part filled to minimise axle weights
  • Graze awkwardly shaped or wetter fields for grazing with light stock or sheep

Health and safety

  • Dark evenings increase the risk of accidents, especially with road haulage - ensure that all vehicle lights are working
  • Soil will inevitably be carried onto roads – erect signage and make arrangements to clean road surfaces as soon as possible

Fodder supplies

Many farmers will benefit from completing a fodder supply calculation to check silage stocks against requirements. An online calculator is available through DAERA Online Services to help with the calculations.


Hopefully, weather conditions will improve to allow fodder to be saved. However, fodder stocks may still continue to be an issue on some farms making stock taking an essential practice in the coming weeks.

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