Silage making & feeding

Grass silage is being increasingly recognised as a valuable feed, as opposed to a way of using surplus pasture in late spring and early summer. This has resulted in a greater focus on quality and efficiency of utilisation, both of which are affected by the ensiling and feeding processes.

Lucerne and grass are more difficult to ensile effectively than maize or whole crop cereals, due to their higher protein and buffering capacity, plus lower sugars and dry matter contents. Therefore, it is crucially important to ensile these crops very carefully to produce the maximum amount of high-quality and palatable silage.

This requires good ensiling techniques, such as properly rolling and sealing stacks, and use of an effective silage inoculant, one which contains high numbers of several bacterial strains that are collectively active over a wide pH range and enzymes. The enzymes will convert fi bre into sugars to provide an energy source for the bacteria to ferment the crop more quickly. The high numbers of  homo-fermentative bacteria will rapidly ferment the crop to a stable pH, preserving as much protein as possible, and resulting in lower dry matter losses. The net result is more high-quality silage to feed to your stock.

It was not until we saw the UK animal data we realised animals ate more and performed better when fed well made, inoculants treated silages, as the laboratory tests were unable to distinguish these from untreated silages. The benefits were due both to improved palatability and the efficient use of energy and protein. Properly controlled studies also demonstrated the treated stacks contained more silage due to lower fermentation losses.

It is important to identify how silages will be used when deciding on crop maturity at cutting, as there are two aspects to silage quality - namely fermentation and feed value. If silages are to be fed to dry cows or to provide additional long forage, then the grass can be cut at a later stage than if it is required as a high-energy feed for cows in early and mid lactation.

Good grass silage can be used to iron out variations in pasture growth and quality, to help maintain a smooth and relatively flat lactation curve. Shutting up surplus paddocks for silage maintains pasture quality, by ensuring cows are not being forced to eat mature pasture, or leaving too much after grazing.
Many dairy farmers ran short of pasture during recent dry summer periods, with the result their cows lacked sufficient roughage in their diets, or were short of protein due to feeding high levels of maize silage or whole crop cereals. Cows in both cases milked poorly due to these dietary imbalances, resulting in losses of income. Grass silage would have been a useful supplement to feed during these periods, and cows would have performed better than trying to replace it with say palm kernel meal.