Maximising the value of wholecrop silage

The last few years have seen a resurgence in interest in fermented wholecrop with farmers looking for alternative, starch-based forage which fit more conveniently with many rotations and systems.

Over this time specialist knowledge has developed in relation to growing and harvesting the crop to produce the highest quality forage possible.

With low milk prices and rising costs the need for efficient milk production is stronger than ever. The key to this is low cost, high quality forage - providing effective digestible fibre and low acid loading to help rumen health and good intake.

Wholecrop has some unique advantages - being a single harvest crop which is harvested at a more favourable time of the year for both weather and ground conditions. It has the potential to become an integral part of many farming systems, not least as it also offers the flexibility to be taken for crimp cereals, if sufficient forage already exists on the farm.

There are many benefits for farmers who focus on making the best possible silage, whichever crop is being harvested.  A high quality, palatable silage will encourage higher intakes allowing more milk and meat from forage and encouraging better rumen health. Together, these can reduce the reliance on supplementary feeds and help reduce costs.

The key to better quality silage is managing the fermentation process. Make sure the crop is cut at the correct stage when the crop is around 4 weeks before combining and the canopy is turning from green to yellow. The grain is at the soft cheese stage and should not be processed by a mill processing unit on the forage harvester unless the crop is past the optimum cutting stage. You need to avoid contamination with soil as this is the number one enemy of a good fermentation. If necessary, leave a longer stubble to avoid contamination.

Make sure the crop is chopped to the correct length.  With wholecrop a much longer and variable chop length is desirable with the aim of producing a chop length of at least 1 inch. Drier crops should be cut shorter to ensure they consolidate well in the clamp. Take the time to clean the clamp to remove old material before you start filling it again. Silage fermentation is similar to wine making, and a wine maker never uses a dirty barrel!

The buck rake driver is the most important member of the team and should set the pace at which the crop is harvested. The clamp must be filled evenly and consolidated as you go along. Clamp filling and consolidation should never be rushed as the exclusion of oxygen is crucial. Once filled the clamp must be effectively sealed and weighed down, ideally with an oxygen barrier and new plastic sheeting.

Cereal fibre is made up of cellulose fibres held together in bundles of hemicellulose. In this form the fibre is not readily digestible as the rumen microbes cannot access all parts of the bundle.  Innoculants with the correct enzyme system, which degrade this hemicellulose fraction, will increase the feed value of the straw bringing it closer to hay. As the hemicellulose degrades, the cellulose fibres are opened up, providing a greater surface area for microbial attack in the rumen, resulting in more efficient utilization of the fibre by the animal.  Heating can also be a problem with forage this dry (30-45%DM) -so using a crop specific additive, such as Biotal Wholecrop Gold, will prove its worth at feedout.

Leave a Reply

Your Name
Your Email
Your Location
Your Rating
Your Review