Quicker the wilt, better the silage

Ensuring quick wilting for silage is vital, particularly in a wetter-than-average spring

Feed Management
Rain on curing silage can lead to a decline in quality and quantity harvested.

Rain on curing silage can lead to a decline in quality and quantity harvested.

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Ensuring quick wilting for silage is vital, particularly in a wetter-than-average spring.

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Ensuring quick wilting for silage is vital, particularly in a wetter-than-average spring.

Rain on curing silage can lead to a decline in quality and quantity harvested.

The aim is to harvest and store chopped stack silage at about 30 to 35 per cent dry matter (DM) and baled silage at around 40-50pc DM.

If wetter, the silage will undergo a less suitable fermentation and will be of lower quality, losing dry matter and palatability.

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Very low losses in quality (energy and protein) and dry matter (DM) occur if the wilted crop is in the pit or bale within 24 to 48 hours after mowing.

Losses increase substantially after this, and an extended wilting period increases the risk of the next shower of rain, resulting in even higher impacts on quality.

Ideally, pastures should be cut at or near when they should be grazed.

This encourages quicker regrowth, promotes tillering and maintains pressure on the remaining grazing area.

Mowing with a mower conditioner and/or using a tedder will speed up the rate of wilting substantially and also help to beat any pending rain.

Plant leaves contain thousands of holes (stomata) per square centimetre through which moisture moves in/out during respiration. These stomata close within one to two hours of mowing.

The warmer the weather, the faster they close. Once this occurs, the rate of wilting is substantially reduced and although wilting still occurs, it becomes extended.

Mower conditioners have a wide range of conditioning techniques. The tyned and flail types are most suited to pastures, young lucerne, clovers and vegetative cereal crops.

The roller types, on the other hand, are more suited to the stemmier type crops such as cereals cut with a seed head, mature lucerne and summer forages e.g. sorghum.

The operator's experience, the speed of the operation, the correct clearance settings and maintenance of the equipment and width of swath can also markedly affect the rate of wilting.

Using a tedder to spread the forage as thinly as possible straight after mowing while the stomata are still open will greatly increase the rate of moisture loss by 50-80pc.

The tedding action will leave the plants in a fluffed-up state, which will allow airflow to remove evaporating moisture and encourage further wilting.

Some bruising of leaves and stems will also occur at the same time, promoting faster wilting.

Be careful when harvesting on wet soils as mud and manure are a source of undesirable bacteria, which may be incorporated into the forage in the silage stack or bale.

These bacteria are highly likely to cause a poor fermentation. This will result in relatively high losses of dry matter and nutritive value of the silage and reduce palatability.

There are several additives that may aid the fermentation process. For slightly over-wet forage still high in sugars, fermentation stimulating bacterial inoculants are suitable, as are products containing sulphur compounds and amylase.

For forage that has been on the ground for many days and probably very low in sugars, buffered acid salts are the best option, although are expensive due to the high application rate needed.

Additives are not a magical solution and effectiveness will depend on the degree of wilting and how much and how well the additive is incorporated.

Summary

  • Aim for a dry matter content of 3-35pc for chopped stack silage and 40-50pc for baled silage.
  • Very low losses in quality (energy and protein) and dry matter (DM) occur if the wilted crop is in the pit or bale within 24 to 48 hours after mowing.
  • Pastures should be cut at or near when they should be grazed to encourage quicker regrowth, promote tillering and maintain pressure on the remaining grazing area.
  • Use of a tedder and/or mower conditioner will speed up the rate of wilting substantially.
  • Be careful when harvesting on wet soils as mud and manure are a source of undesirable bacteria, which may lead to poor fermentation and reduced palatability.
  • There are several additives which may aid the fermentation process; however additives are not a silver bullet.

For more information head to agriculture.vic.gov.au.

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