In commercial dairy farming fodder and feed for the cattle is an expensive proposition and maintaining green fodder availability round the year is a challenge. In the era of commercial dairy farming it is desirable that surplus green herbage are to be preserved /conserved with minimum loss of nutrients for supply during lean periods when availability of organic fresh forage is meager or negligible (mid October-mid December and mid April-June).
Forage preservation as silage is a key component of high input systems. It has allowed producers to intensify the productivity of the land and the productivity of the cows independently from each other. As silage making allows storage and preservation of feed resources for months, if not years, producers can focus on two separate objectives: 1) To maximize yield of digestible nutrients (energy, protein, etc.) per hectare of land; 2) to maximize milk production per cow throughout the year. Thus silage making gives producers a feed inventory that can be used to plan a detailed feeding program for the herd.
Advantages of silage-making
Silage making is a tool for producers to achieve whole farm management goals. Silage making has some distinct advantages compared to grazing or hay-making. For example, silage making allows:
1. Intensification of forage production (i.e., increased yield of forage per hectare);
2. Minimization of risk factors associated with weather conditions (rainfall losses) when trying to harvest high quality forages. For example, compared to hay-making, silage making shortens the time between cutting wider range of weather conditions, and risk of dry matter losses due to rainfall is minimized;
3. Improvement of the producer’s control over cutting dates and optimal stage of maturity at harvest;
4. Minimization of loss of leaves and other small plant parts of high quality in the field;
5. Storage of non-forage feeds that cannot be preserved as hay, such as agro-industrial by products;
6. Stabile composition of the feed (silage) for a longer period (up to 5 years);
7. Plants can be harvested at optimal phase of development and are efficiently used by livestock.
8. Reduction of nutrient loses(below 10%) which in hay may amount to 30% of the dry matter.
9. More economical use of plants with high yield of green mass;
10. Better use of the land with 2-3 crops annually; Requires 10 times less storage space compared to hay;
11. Silage is produced in both cold and cloudy weather;
12. The fermentation in silage reduces harmful nitrates accumulated in plants during droughts and in over-fertilized crops.
13. Allows by-products (from sugar beet processing, maize straw, etc.) to be optimally used;
14. Maize silage has 30-50% higher nutritive value compared to maize grain and maize straw; 2 kg of silage (70% moisture) has the equal nutritive value of 1 kg of hay.
Limitations and drawbacks of silage making
Silage making also has some limitations or drawbacks that need to be taken in mind-
1. Silage making requires high capital investment. Harvesters are needed to chop the forage, tractors or other heavy equipment are used to pack the silage, storage facilities (silo structures) may be expensive, and additional equipment may be required to remove silage from a silo;
2. The management of silos is sometimes difficult on the farm because once a silo is opened, silage should be removed on a daily basis (to minimize loss of nutritive value). Adjusting the number of silos and their dimension to the expected feed out rate for a given herd size is difficult. Usually, only large herds can afford to feed out of different silos of varying forage qualities for different groups of animals on the farm (heifers, dry cows, lactating cows, etc.);
3. Once silage is removed from a silo, it becomes unstable (because of exposure to oxygen) and tends to spoil within a day or two (especially in warm weather conditions with well-preserved silages);
4. Silage cannot be marketed easily (difficult to transport long distances);
Loss of nutrients during storage in a silo is unavoidable and may be high if the silage is not prepared properly.
1. Harrison, J.H. and S. Fransen 1991. Silage management in North America. In Field Guide for Hay and Silage Management in North America, pg. 33. K. K. Bolsen, ed. Natl. Feed Ingredients Assoc. West Des Moines, Iowa.
2. Pitt, R.E. 1990. Silage and hay preservation. North Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, Cooperative Extension (NRAES-5), 152 Riley- Robb Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853.
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