Why do we make silage?
- To save money?
- To guarantee a year-long feed supply?
- To know what we feed our cows?
Of course, the answer is all the above. Silage is the most efficient and cost effective way to preserve farm-grown forage and feed our animals all year long, and every farmer knows these benefits. But, silage making can be tricky. To make sure we attain the best quality and consistency, we need a clear understanding of the parameters and challenges involved at every step.
1/ Grass selection
You cannot make high quality silage from low quality pasture! Parameters that impact silage quality include:
- Maturity at harvest, dry matter (DM) and sugar content
- Age of the pasture: The older the pasture ley, the lower the digestibility, and the lower the actual proportion of true grass within the ley. For example, a sown grass pasture becomes 38% weeds within 4 years.1
2/ At harvest
Look out for:
- Residual nitrogen content from fertilizer: Its high buffering capacity hinders fermentation, leaving more room for spoilage microorganisms to grow and degrade forage.
- Chop length: The longer the chop length, the more difficult to pack.
- Wilting: There is a finite amount of sugar in the forage. When wilting is too long, the sugar concentrates in the grass can break down, reducing the total amount.
- Presence of soil: If the ash content >10%, it brings a huge amount of spoilage microorganisms.
- Weather forecast: “Rain delays” can lead to spoilage microorganisms, low sugar content and difficult fermentation. On the other hand, good weather can sometimes be too good, causing fast wilt that can led to excessive DM.
3/ At silo making
A key issue at this point is to limit the presence of air trapped in the silo. Pay close attention to these three areas:
- Speed of ensiling: Obviously, the quicker the better. The speed of ensiling must be in line with the farmer/contractor’s ability to compact it.
- Packing density: This is directly linked to air penetration and preservation (250Kg/m3 is usually recommended).
- Rate of feedout: A well-designed silo is adapted to the herd (recommendation 20 cm/ day of silo face).
Silage harvesting season is about to start. Think about these critical steps when making silage to deliver the best possible silage quality.