The dos and don’ts of mak­ing silage

Silage mak­ing has come a long since its early use by the Greeks and Ro­mans. Dr Clive Dal­ton of lifestyle­block.co.nz ex­plains

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

The silage mak­ing process is very old. It was used by the Greeks and Ro­mans and be­came pop­u­lar on farms in the late 19th Cen­tury.

But you needed a pit or silo, and a lot of labour to feed it out, which meant it was not pop­u­lar on small farms. With the in­ven­tion of the baler and plas­tic wrapping, its pop­u­lar­ity has changed dra­mat­i­cally so small farm­ers can take ad­van­tage of the ben­e­fits of silage as a sup­ple­men­tary feed for stock.

You don’t need a hay barn – the wrapped bales or long sausage bag can stand out in the pad­dock.

The end prod­uct is near the orig­i­nal pas­ture. You should only lose about 20 per cent of the nu­tri­ents in the silage mak­ing process. The high-pro­tein green leaf is main­tained. Now that it’s baled, you can buy and sell it. Un­for­tu­nately, it smells, and some peo­ple don’t ap­pre­ci­ate this.

You must en­sure a good fer­men­ta­tion when mak­ing it.

It’s dif­fi­cult to cart and feed out with­out proper equip­ment.

The ef­flu­ent from silage is an en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ard and is lethal to wildlife in wa­ter­ways as it eats up oxy­gen.

Silage wrap is an en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ard – it needs to be put in an ap­proved land­fill and not burnt or buried on the farm.

You can lose up to 30 per cent of the orig­i­nal nu­tri­ents if it is made poorly.

Holes in the plas­tic (even pin holes) can let in air and al­low moulds to ruin large ar­eas. Rats love silage bales and so do stock. What hap­pens in a good silage mak­ing process? You en­sile a good qual­ity crop at the right stage. When it is baled or put in a pit, a bac­te­rial fer­men­ta­tion starts.

This should be in anaer­o­bic con­di­tions – for ex­am­ple, no air.

Make sure that in a pit the silage is con­sol­i­dated by rolling all the time it is be­ing filled.

With wrapped bales this is less of a con­cern as bal­ing con­sol­i­dates the grass and it is sealed im­me­di­ately af­ter bal­ing.

This al­lows Lac­to­bacilli and Strep­to­cocci present on the plant leaves to feed off the 3 to 3.5 per cent su­gars present.

These are the good bac­te­ria that we want. The silage smells sweet and like vine­gar. What hap­pens when things go wrong? There is no con­sol­i­da­tion so you get an aer­o­bic fer­men­ta­tion – air gets in.

The bac­te­ria form a bu­tyric acid fer­men­ta­tion which re­ally stinks. You will smell am­mo­nia and see moulds.

Af­ter a while in the stack or bale it will look more like tobacco, and is of very lit­tle feed value, in fact the stock prob­a­bly won’t eat it.

The bales will shrink to half their orig­i­nal size – a good sign of trou­ble.

To make good silage, se­lect a good rapid­ly­grow­ing crop high in rye­grass and clover.

Cut it at max­i­mum of 10 to 15 per cent seed head emer­gence.

Don’t try to en­sile short and lush spring pas­ture. Cut when dry on a sunny day, not in the rain. Have it cut and con­di­tioned to spread it about to get rapid wilt­ing.

Get rapid air ex­clu­sion in the pit. Seal the pit rapidly.

In a pit keep the tem­per­a­ture be­low 30 de­grees Cel­sius by rolling to stop the plants respir­ing.

Use a pinch bar to make a hole and drop a ther­mome­ter on a string down the hole to check tem­per­a­ture.

Wrap bales soon af­ter bal­ing and trans­port them with care to avoid punc­tur­ing the wrap.

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