SILAGE MANAGEMENT
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Improve your silage making procedures to preserve the nutritional value of your silage for cows

Important to know...

Fermentation reduces silage quality and palatability of the dairy cow ration

Managing microbial growth is essential for silage making. Fresh forage contains microbes such as bacteria, yeasts and moulds. It is a mixture of beneficial microbes, such as lactic acid forming bacteria and undesired microbes such as clostridia or moulds. Proliferation of microbes in silage for cows initially leads to consumption of the oxygen trapped in the silage. Once all oxygen is consumed, growth of anaerobic lactate forming bacteria decreases the pH of the silage. This acidification creates a good quality silage pH, resulting in stability of the silage for cows.

The balance between beneficial and undesirable microbes is one of the most important silage quality parameters. If this balance in the silage for cows is disturbed or the amount of oxygen after harvesting is too high, this acidification process will slow down. This will create favourable conditions for the growth of yeasts, coliform bacteria, clostridia and moulds, which have a negative effect on silage quality. These moulds can sometimes be recognized via visual inspection. The growth of these unfavourable microbes results in a bad smell and reduced palatability of the silage for cows. Low quality silage will ultimately lead to reduced nutritional value and palatability of the dairy ration.

Producing a healthy silage already starts before harvesting. Crop contamination with microorganisms occurs already on the field, but also before and during harvesting. Proliferation can either occur after ensiling, after opening of the silage (mainly at the cutting edge) or in the TMR once the silage is mixed into the dairy ration. Feeding high quality silage therefore requires care during the silage making process but quality of silage is also impacted by silage management.

Making quality silage requires managing the crop before harvesting

In case of grass silage for cows:

  • For a healthy silage, aim at an optimal yield with a correct level of sugars
  • Apply sufficient amounts of fertilizer at least 8 weeks before mowing.
  • Avoid surface application of slurry within 10 weeks of mowing to reduce the risk of problems with silage quality due to contamination with undesirable micro-organisms.
  • Avoid that the dry matter level of grass silage for cows is too high as a result of excessive wilting.

In case of corn silage for cows:

  • Harvest corn silage for cows before it reaches the dough stage. The risk of problems with quality of silage due to fermentation increases once corn is cut matured.

Silage management: improve silage quality by reducing contamination of silages and growth of undesired microorganisms at harvesting

During the silage making process, there are a number of measures that can be taken at harvesting:

  • When making silage, avoid contamination of silage for cows with soil as much as possible, as this can be a source of anaerobic bacteria which can have a negative impact on silage quality parameters.
  • If the dry matter of a crop is above 30%, fine chopping of silage for cows makes it easier to exclude air once the crop is put into the silage bunk.

When making silage, silage quality can be improved by filling the trenches properly.

Reducing growth of micro-organisms will improve silage quality because it will increase the stability of silage for cows:

  • When making silage, ensure the silage storage space is clean, the surface is smooth, and the silo is not leaking before it is filled
  • Avoid problems with silage quality by organising harvesting of silage for cows in such a way that delayed filling of the silos can be avoided.
  • When making silage, don’t harvest to much crop in a single session.
  • Adapt the tractor weight and harvesting speed to ensure good compaction, the optimal packing density for during silage making is around 240 kg/m3

Figure 1: Stability of an untreated silage, a silage inoculated with lactic acid bacteria and a silage treated with Fyvalet Silage. Silage was opened after 6 weeks of storage and the temperature was measured at regular intervals for a period up to 250 hours. A value of 120% represents an increase by 3 °C.

Reduce undesired growth of micro-organisms in silage for cows during storage in the silo

Silage quality parameters can still be influenced after the crop has been harvested. When making silage, there are two things that can be done to maintain quality of silage while it is in the bunker. To maintain silage quality, reduce exposure of the silage for cows to oxygen as much as possible. Secondly, to produce a healthy silage and to ensure good quality silage pH, stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria that produce lactic acid:

  • When making silage, apply plastic lining of the side walls of the silo.
  • Ensure the silo is being sealed properly and as quickly as possible during the silage making process. Use plastic of at least 125 micron, and cover the silage for cows with soil and/or tires to ensure the quality of silage is preserved during storage.
  • Use side sheers when making silage for cows .
  • Keep the clamp of the silage for cows airtight, repair any damage caused by birds or rodents.
  • To ensure silage quality parameters don’t deteriorate during storage, use long narrow silos instead of short wide ones, as this will allow a rapid rate of feeding once the silage for cows will be opened. Proper silage management should ensure the silage face of a healthy silage should advance by at least 30 cm/day.
  • When making silage for cows, consider the use of inoculants or additives at harvesting. Use a dairy feed additive such as Fyvalet Silage in case of a silage for cows with crops that have a high dry matter content and relatively low levels of easily fermentable sugars. When making corn silage for cows, use an additive such as Fyvalet Corn, suitable for crops with a high moisture content and/or high level of easily fermentable sugars. Both additives improve silage quality because they increase temperature stability of the silage for cows. This maintains silage quality parameters for as long as possible after opening the silage clamp.

Managing silages for dairy cows at feeding

Costs of grains, concentrate and compound feed are increasing, so the total feeding costs of dairy cows can be reduced by increasing the amount of silage for cows in the ration. Next to that, a healthy silage ensures intake of sufficient levels of fibre, which is essential to keep the dairy rumen healthy. Dairy cows should therefore have access to sufficient and fresh good quality silage for cows in their ration for optimal performance and health. Feeding a good quality silage also ensures maximum income over feeding costs.

Formulating an optimal ration starts with analysing all silage for cows that is available. Testing silage quality parameters will not only help to formulate the ration correctly, it will also be a good reflection of how good the silage making process and subsequent silage management have been.

Figure 2: Temperature development of a TMR including silage for cows treated with Selko-TMR compared to an untreated TMR. Ading Selko TMR to silage for cows has a big impact temperature of the TMR, which is one of the important silage quality parameters. At 12 hours after feeding, the temperature of the TMR treated with Selko-TMR is 6 °C below the temperature of the untreated silage for cows, at 24 hours after feeding, the difference is 9 °C

Once the silage for cows is being opened and included into the TMR, micro-organisms exposed to oxygen will grow and silage quality will change

Growth of micro-organisms at the cutting edge of the silage for cows and in the TMR can be reduced by the following silage management precautions:

  • To ensure optimal silage quality, cut the silage for cows in such a way that the face of the silage remains smooth. This keeps the surface area as small as possible, allowing less penetration of air and keeping the silage quality parameters within specifications.
  • Clear up loose material that is spilled onto the area in front of the cutting surface of the silage for cows.
  • Treat the cutting surface of the silage for cows with Selko®-TMR in order to slow down the fermentation. This will ensure a good quality silage pH once the silage for cows is benign fed. Spray 0.25 liter of Selko-TMR per square meter cutting surface.
  • Keep the sheeting close to the face of the silage for cows.
  • In case of leakage of air into the silo, growth of micro-organisms, particularly moulds, can occur at the top layer and the lateral sides of the silage for cows. This can have a strong negative effect on silage quality. Spray 1 liter of Selko-TMR per square meter on the top layer and sides of the silage.
  • To maintain quality of silage, feed silage for dairy cattle twice daily to reduce the period of time the TMR is being exposed to oxygen.
  • Mix Selko-TMR into the dairy ration to reduce growth of micro-organisms.

Optimise the silage making process for an optimal transition to a healthy lactation

The performance of a dairy cow during lactation is heavily impacted by the dry cow period and the transition to lactation. Once a dairy cow is 30 days into lactation, it is very difficult to improve her performance. The only tool remaining is the quality of the roughage in the silage for cows. Silage management before and during harvesting, during the period of storage and at feeding can have a huge impact on the quality of the TMR fed to dairy cows. Healthy silage resulting from excellent silage management can maximize dairy farm profitability and ensure sustainability of dairy farming.

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The quality of the initial raw materials has a big impact on the level of yeasts, moulds and bacteria. Contamination at harvesting should be avoided as much as possible, and silos should be closed properly to reduce exposure to oxygen. Growth of micro-organisms can be reduced further by using silage preservation products.

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