Assess silage results to improve quality

Approaching U.S. silage harvest provides good opportunity to think about quality and stability of last season's crop.

As silage harvest approaches across the country, it is a good opportunity to think about the quality and stability of last season’s crop.

“Even excellent operations are likely to experience some silage quality issues,” Dr. Bob Charley, forage products manager at Lallemand Animal Nutrition, said. “Understanding these issues and their causes can provide insights on where we can make improvements during this year’s harvest, ensiling process or feedout management.”

The most common issues producers experience in their silages revolve around high pH. In low-dry matter (DM), high-protein silages (haylages), this can lead to a “bad,” or butyric, fermentation, which produces material that can cause significant feeding problems. In high-DM, high-sugar content crops (whole plant corn and high-moisture corn), the higher pH can be coupled with the growth of spoilage yeasts, leading to heating, high DM and nutrient losses and, eventually, mold spoilage, Charley said.

“I recommend a total management approach to prevent high-pH silages and their associated problems,” he added. “Optimize everything from the harvest stage to chop length, the speed of fill and packing rate, and make sure that the silage is covered and sealed quickly and effectively. Using high-quality, proven inoculants can help address these challenges, too.”

Using an inoculant containing an efficient, proven, homolactic lactic acid bacterium (LAB), coupled with enzymes to drive the fermentation, can ensure a fast, efficient initial ensiling fermentation with a rapid pH drop that prevents the growth of clostridia that produce butyric acid and cause high DM losses, Charley said.

“All management factors are designed to help preserve the nutrients in the original forage crop,” Charley explained. “To get the best silage from the crop planted, it’s important to focus on the basics and get things right. There is almost always an area for improvement, and the silage will tell us where to look.”

“It pays to focus on producing silage that is maximized both in terms of quantity and quality,” added Dr. Renato Schmidt, forage products specialist at Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “Focusing on good silage management practices helps producers reduce dry matter losses and increase retention of important nutrients that contribute to robust growth and health.”

Even in the best situations, there are likely to be challenges simply due to variability in the crop or weather variations during harvest, the time it takes to bring in the crop and storage conditions. However, focusing on good management practices, including selecting the right inoculant, will help producers defend silage against challenges.

When producers review inoculant options, it’s important to look for evidence that a product that has been tested in the specific crop to be ensiled. Small grain silages, corn silages, haylages and high-moisture corn face different ensiling challenges.

“Issues can also vary with the storage method used on the farm,” Schmidt said. “Bags, bales, bunkers and silos can all present different conditions for ensiling.”

Finally, producers should consider the specific challenges that occur from year to year on their operation, such as harvesting at high or low DM, cloudy or overcast weather during cutting/wilting, field diseases (molds, blights, etc.), hailed-on crops, drought, insect damage, costridial (black, smelly) silage, low-DM recovery (shrink issues) and feed heating and spoilage issues.

“The right inoculant choice can help overcome specific silage challenges on your operation,” Schmidt said. “Combined with good management practices, the right inoculant can help add to your bottom line. The best defense against silage losses is a good offense.”

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