Good maize silage could be crucial to make up for poorer grass silage

Producing good maize silage could be a crucial step to make up for this year’s poorer grass silage, says a leading forage expert, based on farmer feedback. In particular, he says, it will be important to ensile the crop well.

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“In a recent survey that we carried out of around 70 dairy farmers around the country, 40% said their grass silage quality was lower than normal this season,” explains Ecosyl forage specialist, Derek Nelson.

“To make up for the shortfall, around 27% said they needed to make better quality maize silage. Also, around 13% said they needed to make more maize silage – that’s probably because maize is seen as higher quality forage, so farmers may be planning to feed a higher proportion in the diet.

“As well as lower quality grass silage, 13% of farmers also said they had made less grass silage than normal this season, and were hoping maize silage would help make up the shortfall. With so many farmers thinking in these ways, clearly it will be important to do the best job possible when it comes to preserving maize crops.”

In particular, Mr Nelson says it is important to remember that losses in maize feed quantity and feed quality can come from two sources: inefficient fermentation, and aerobic spoilage – the latter caused by yeasts and moulds in the presence of air, which causes silage to heat up. It will be important to guard against both issues, he stresses.

“Techniques to minimise the amount of air trapped in the clamp – such as fast filling in thin layers and good consolidation – will be essential,” says Mr Nelson. “So, too, will techniques to minimise air ingress – such as effective clamp sealing, moving the face back quickly at feedout, and keeping the face tidy. However, even with all these steps, it is still impossible to guarantee perfect clamp conditions.

The use of a suitable additive offers an extra level of feed quantity and feed quality protection. A new additive, Ecocool, launched last year, has been designed to reduce losses in both areas by improving fermentation and tackling aerobic spoilage. It uses two different beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria.

“The first, Lactobacillus plantarum MTD/1, has been shown to retain the equivalent of an extra 36 tonnes of dry matter in a 1,000 tonne clamp, compared with forage left to ferment without an additive. For a 100 cow herd eating 40 kg of dry matter/cow/day, that equates to 9 days’ extra silage.

“The second, Lactobacillus buchneri PJB/1, inhibits the yeasts and moulds causing aerobic spoilage. Upon opening, Ecocool-treated maize silage has been shown to remain stable and cool for more than 10 days, compared with untreated silage that started heating by around one day.

With the significance of maize silage to many farmers this year – particularly if looking to maximise the amount of milk produced from forage and rely less on bought-in feeds – it will be important to adopt a joined-up approach to preserving the crop.