The key to making better silage

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4Sight ag consultant Dr Les Sandles is passionate about soil health and sustainable practices

Over the years, I have often asked my clients and students, “Do you make good silage or do you make good silage?”

Most are a bit confused by the question thinking they’re pretty much the same thing – but they’re actually poles apart.

The key to making good silage is to start with an excellent source of forage.

The reality is that the quality of silage is always inferior to that of the starting crop, and it doesn’t matter if it is pasture, corn, grain or alfalfa.

Two factors contribute to this: the fermentation process and the animal’s inability to select when fed.

Our number one mistake in making great silage is looking for yield because, with the exception of corn and alfalfa, yield always comes at the expense of quality.

The second mistake is not understanding well enough what is happening during the ensiling process.

We don’t all need to be silage experts here, but it helps to understand the most important factors and how they impact the end result.

The longer the period between the start of the ensiling process (which begins with cutting) and when the pH reaches its magic number – 4.2 (but it varies from 3.7 to 4.7, depending on the crop and the conditions) is shorter – the better.

It is largely determined by the ratio of soluble carbohydrates to soluble proteins, since this ratio determines the buffering capacity of the culture.

In short, soluble carbohydrates are the acid source and soluble proteins are the buffer.

The lower the sugars and the higher the proteins, the greater the buffering capacity, which in turn slows down the rate at which the culture reaches the magic pH. And the longer this period, the more nutrients your silage loses.

This is why maize is the easiest crop to ensile well, and pure legumes the most difficult. This is also why silage crops should always be cut mid-afternoon because sugars are at their highest and NPN at its (relative) lowest.

The importance of wilting down to 35-40% DM cannot be overemphasized to optimize the balance between compaction and avoidance of seepage (in which all the goodies are lost) and compaction to eliminate litter. ‘oxygen.

Too dry and we can’t compact the crop enough; too wet and we get seepage.

Both increase the time between ensiling and reaching our target pH of 4.2.

The last two decades have seen a massive improvement in the method and repeatability of silage success – most of it involves the use of inoculants. But now there are so many that it’s hard to choose which one to use.

The newest is 4SIGHT’s enSILE-Bio RTU, a ready-to-use catalyst that accelerates the growth of endogenous (unapplied) lactic acid bacteria – those that already contaminate silage in high numbers.

This means carbohydrates are converted to acid much sooner and complete the process faster, resulting in higher quality silage.

Reports from early adopters indicate that “the silage looks exactly like the food that went into it.” Music to my ears.

Doctor Les Sandles

4Sight is an Australian company focused on equipping farmers with innovative, cost-effective solutions for regenerative farming practices and sustainability.

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