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Quality silage is more valuable than ever Part 2

November 17, 2011

Lance Whitelock for Progressive Dairyman

There are several sources of dry-matter loss in silage. The most obvious is silage that has spoiled and is not fed. This is typically found at the end or top of piles. Other sources of dry-matter loss include aerobic respiration and fermentation during the filling stage of ensiling. This loss results from delayed or insufficient packing of the forage when filling a silage mass. Dry-matter loss from silage effluent (runoff) occurs when silage is harvested and preserved at too high of a moisture content. This silage “juice” is the most soluble and highest-quality nutrient in the forage. A secondary fermentation can cause extremely high dry-matter loss and result in feed that’s very unhealthy to cows. This occurs when the amount of acid production is inadequate to sufficiently drop the pH and stop the growth of harmful clostridial bacteria. Significant dry-matter loss can occur during storage as well as feedout through aerobic deterioration. This occurs at the three main stages: when forage is not packed, not sealed well or when the silage face is not properly managed.

There are three key steps that you can take to decrease dry-matter loss. These steps have been adapted from presentations by the Kansa State University.

Step 1: Increase silage dry-matter density. Dry-matter loss is directly related to the dry-matter density of silage. As we increase the dry-matter density of silage, we decrease the dry-matter loss. Key ways to increase dry-matter density include: Chopping forage to the appropriate particle size, processing forage when appropriate, spreading the silage in thin layers when filling a horizontal silo, putting enough weight on the silage when packing and limiting exposure to oxygen by filling the silage quickly.

Step 2: Properly seal your forage. Extensive deterioration occurs when silage is exposed to oxygen. This deterioration leads to dry-matter loss as well as decreased animal performance and potential health problems. Covering and sealing with 6-mil to 8-mil polyethylene plastic with UV protection should be considered the minimum to prevent excessive dry-matter losses.

Step 3: Manage the face and the rate of feedout. Silage feedout is another key time to influence silage dry-matter loss. Piles should be sized to feed through the silage faster than oxygen can spoil the silage. Strive to feed across the entire face daily, and remove 9 to 12 inches per day during cooler weather and 12 to 18 inches per day during warmer weather. Shave silage down the face or from the side and never lift the loader bucket into the silage mass, as this will increase oxygen penetration into the face of the silage mass. Additionally, a silage facer may be a good alternative to using a loader.

The major key in making good-quality silage is to avoid the spoilage that occurs when oxygen allows bacteria, yeast and mold to grow and deteriorate the silage. We have tremendous control over how much dry-matter loss occurs during storage. Decreasing dry-matter loss in silage results in more higher-quality silage available to feed and less need to replace lost silage with other costly feeds.



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