Analysis reveals major financial advantage of multi-cut grass over traditional approach

New analysis conducted by Volac has revealed that cutting grass in a multi-cut silage system has the potential to be over £700/ha more profitable than a traditional three-cut approach, even at a modest milk price of 40 pence/litre (p/l).

The findings indicate that even though silage production costs have increased, the financial benefit of multi-cut grass over three cuts has more than doubled in the last few years.

The analysis incorporates previous on-farm trial results, which found that fresh-cut grass from a five-cut system had the capacity to support an additional 3,506 litres/ha of milk from forage.

This was after five cuts were found to deliver 18,582 MJ/ha more metabolisable energy (ME) than three cuts, said Volac silage scientist Dr Mark Leggett, due to the forage yielding more total dry matter (DM) and higher average ME over the season.

Higher metabolisable energy (ME) yield per ha from multi-cut grass (five cuts) versus conventionally-cut grass (three cuts). Source Volac on-farm trial, 2019.

“Applying a milk price of 25 p/l at the time of the trial (2019) to these extra 3,506 litres/ha of milk showed multi-cut was £333/ha more profitable,” he said. “This was after deducting £544/ha of extra costs for application of fertiliser and slurry, as well as contractor charges for cutting, raking, harvesting, carting and clamping the two additional cuts.

“Now, bringing this up to date by applying a higher, but still modest, milk price of 40 p/l has revealed the financial advantage of multi-cut over three-cuts to have more than doubled – to £752/ha. Again, this was after deducting the additional outlay for the two extra cuts, this time of £650/ha to reflect cost increases.”

The analysis comes as fertiliser and contracting costs continue to increase and milk prices are showing a drop from the highs of 2022, leading to many farmers questioning the value of making multi-cut. Dr Leggett pointed out that, while the system doesn’t suit all farms, its extra benefit was clear from the analysis as shown below:

Higher metabolisable energy (ME) yield per ha from multi-cut grass (five cuts) versus conventionally-cut grass (three cuts). * based on 2022 costs/estimates as the latest available. ** based on 2018 costs/estimates as the latest available at the time. Source Volac on-farm trial, 2019.

“The other important finding from the original trial was the multi-cut grass was also 2.8% higher in crude protein. Producing higher quality grass by cutting younger and more often with multi-cut may not allow producers to reduce the tonnage of concentrate purchased.

“However, it might mean a lower-cost concentrate, with lower ME and lower protein, can be fed. It might also mean less imported protein is used. Alternatively, higher quality grass may be used to help improve milk yield,” he added.

At the same time, Dr Leggett noted the DM yield and quality results from the original trial were from fresh grass samples, and the benefits of improved grass quality will not be seen unless the crop is preserved correctly. Hence, further Volac research looked at multi-cut conservation – this time across four cuts.

Commenting on the results, Dr Leggett said: “Compared with leaving grass untreated, the work found that treating with the additive Ecosyl – which applies a million Lactobacillus plantarum MTD/1 bacteria per gram of forage – reduced DM losses on all four cuts, and on two of the cuts by more than half.

“The results also pointed to better protein preservation by using the additive, and the number of enterobacteria – the undesirable bacteria associated with slurry – in the treated silage was up to 100,000 times lower.”

Therefore, using a proven additive to improve conservation of a multi-cut crop is an important consideration, Dr Leggett said, as shorter intervals between cuts allow less time for slurry bacteria to decline. He added the higher protein content of younger grass can also contribute to buffering of the fermentation.

“The combination of high buffering and the action of slurry bacteria can lead to DM and nutrient losses. With farmers looking to improve milk from forage, it makes little sense to produce multi-cut as a way of improving forage quality if that quality is then lost during ensiling,” Dr Leggett concluded.

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