Silage could be improved by greater focus on preservation practices

Dairy farmers looking to reduce bought-in feed costs by making more milk from home-grown grass could take a step nearer by focusing more closely on some key aspects of silage-making, results of a new survey suggest.

Silage Making  Taking control of the preservation process

Conducted among more than 100 UK dairy farmers, a massive 78% thought they could make better grass silage, says Jackie Bradley, product manager for Ecosyl, who organised the survey. 
 
But most producers simply didn’t feel in control of the preservation process, she says, with fermentation, in particular, emerging as an area where control could potentially be improved.
 
“Just 19% of respondents said they felt completely in control of how well their grass silage turned out once they had sealed the clamp,” says Mrs Bradley, “with 85% in a further question saying they would like to feel more in control. 

But it was only when we dug deeper into silage-making practices that we uncovered fermentation as providing some key opportunities for improvement.

Using a quality silage additive
 
For example, Mrs Bradley says only half of respondents realised that crop dry matter at harvest has a big impact on grass silage fermentation, while some aspects of the forage ‘pickling’ process which takes place as a result of fermentation also seemed poorly understood. 
 
“During fermentation, beneficial bacteria convert some of the crop’s sugars into acids, which pickle the forage,” says Mrs Bradley. “Yet only 20% of respondents recognised fermentation as a process whereby forage is pickled in acid. Also, 28% of respondents thought that a good silage fermentation was largely dependent on the bacteria naturally present on grass. 

Relying solely on the bacteria on grass effectively reduces your control of preservation – because you don’t know if you have enough of the best type of bacteria for a fast and efficient fermentation.

“There may also be undesirable bugs present – such as enterobacteria, clostridia, yeasts and moulds – which can waste nutrients and potentially result in a poor fermentation, and encourage spoilage at feedout.

However, adding bacteria with a quality silage additive applies as many as one million beneficial bacteria per gram of forage treated, when used correctly – bacteria that have been specially selected to be highly efficient at fermentation, she adds.

Taking control of your silage
 
Looking at other aspects of clamp management from the survey, Mrs Bradley says although 90% of respondents did roll continuously when consolidating, only 38% said they normally filled the clamp in layers no more than 15cm thick. But this is the maximum depth that can be consolidated effectively, she stresses. 
 
“Also, only 17% said they achieved a grass dry matter density of 250 kg per cubic metre when consolidating, which is the optimum for grass at 30% dry matter,” she notes.
 
“If you want to maximise self-sufficiency in home-produced forage, good grass silage is a valuable asset. However, producing it is a joined-up process. 
 
“With nearly 80% of respondents saying they thought they could make better grass silage, if you are serious about producing it, you have to put yourself in better control at every stage. 

As we have seen from bacterial silage additive research, the follow-on benefits of a good fermentation can be numerous. They include reduced dry matter losses, improved silage ME and digestibility, and improved milk yield per cow – with an average of an extra 1.2 litres/cow/day in the case of adding Lactobacillus plantarum MTD/1 bacteria across a range of forages".

The Volac range of Ecosyl silage additives is effective in maintaining the nutritional quality of silage, whether clamp, big bale, maize or whole crop. FInd out more here.