With the consolidation of the farming industry, livestock farmers constantly face real challenges. Ensuring a profitable farm and ensuring operational efficiency is not a trivial exercise – but attention to details during silage making constitute one of the most important parts of dairy economics. A few days work – a whole year of benefits.
Feed accounts for about 50% - 60% of the cost of running a dairy farm. Silage is in most cases the only commodity that is within farmers own control. And the quality of the silage is impacted by a few key decision points during harvest and subsequent storage preparation.
Let’s visit with a few of the key important ones – Critical Control Points (CCP)
CCP 1: Safety first
Safety should always be at the top of the agenda. No business considerations should prevail safety precautions during silage making.
CCP 2: Decision-making
Subsequent it is important to establish the decision-making process: Who is empowered to decide when to start, alter or stop the silage making in a timely manner?
Roughage is typically grown on own land. Although closer to the producer’s immediate influence, the scale in modern dairy farming and the equipment involved in harvesting often calls for external help: The contract choppers. Interestingly, in most markets, 60-70% of all forage is chopped by contractors and the trend is increasing. This puts a lot of responsibility at the hands of these contractors – but does not remove the responsibility – or the concern – of the producer.
CCP 3: Maturity and dry matter content
To make the most of the field potential, striking the balance between yield (quantity) and digestibility (quality) is pivotal. Picking the optimal time to harvest is important but difficult to practice if all should be “ideal”. At a balance between tonnage and digestibility, maize has an optimal DM content of 34% with a narrow acceptable range of 32-36% and a realistic range from 30-38%. Despite you aim for feed quality rather than quantity, the impact of size most often will not allow you to harvest all crops at the ideal stage.
CCP 4: Theoretical Length of Cut (TLOC)
Cut length is optimal around 2-2.5 cm – this is measured at the spout as what comes out here is what enters the bunker – not what the settings on the machine might show. So ensure you frequently check this and communicate with the crew if settings need to be adjusted – remember you will feed this throughout the entire season!
CCP 5: Kernel Processing
Maize is mostly a starch feed source – and if the starch is to be available to the rumen fermentation it has to be accessible – typically described as kernel processing or crushing. Again, this is checked at the spout – ideally you should accept very few if any un-cracked kernels as they indicate energy passing through the cows undigested. If in doubt check the muck today (or watch the birds. If you have whole maize kernels in the muck, ask for better attention with your chopper team during the upcoming harvest - and make sure to track it through the entire harvest, as there is little you can do afterwards during feed out. Reduction of un-cracked kernels easily translates into increasing milk yield.
CCP 6: Packing
“Oxygen is the enemy”. You may have heard this ever so often – but remember that spoilage organisms like yeast and molds are aerobes and will proliferate as long as oxygen is present in the bunker. This is the reason you should pay attention to the packing of your crop, during the silage making process. The “rule of 400” tells you if you have the right balance between filling rate and packing capacity: Weight of tractor = 400 x tons of forage delivered per hour. Reflecting again that the capacity of harvest equipment is increasing, the delivery rate could easily exceed the packing capacity. Is your packing tractor big enough? If packing is not done properly you stand to lose good nutrients and also risk spoilage due to the presence of residual air inside the bunker. In fact – the most skilled person on the farm should be taking care of packing, as this part of the process has a very large impact on the stability and resulting quality of your silage. If possible consider doubling the packing capacity – with proper compaction (say moving from 250 to 285 kg/m3) you could increase the bunker storage capacity by almost 15%.
CCP 7: Sealing
This is the critical part to ensure anaerobic conditions can be established (and sustained). Use of oxygen barrier films in addition to ordinary plastic has proven effective on reducing top layer spoilage. Combining this technology with a top layer applied solution based on biological/chemical additives is an “insurance” that has a dramatic effect on waste reduction (especially reducing the top spoilage layer). Add weight to the plastic – if the plastic can move up and down, it indicates that air can be pulled into the silo. All in all – what you do during the days of harvest will influence both work load and performance throughout the entire year.