One of the most crucial aspects of dairy farming is animal feeds. For you to be a successful farmer, you must have adequate, good quality feed for your cows as it is directly proportional to the quantity of milk produced. Having affordable feeds is just as important and it is for this reason that many farmers are advised to plant their own feed and especially forages since this constitute the bulk of what is fed to cows.
Silage making is the process of preserving forages for future use while maintaining the nutrient contents. Many forage crops can be ensiled including legumes, corn/maize, sorghum, Napier grass and even pasture grass. Maize silage is preferred to the rest due to the tonnage produced per acre which is significantly high and also the nutritional content when harvested at the correct time.
This is the first step in silage making here the forage eg maize is harvested from the field. This can be done when a farmer see’s that the feed is excess to the immediate feed requirement and ensiling becomes usefull in this situation as the farmer is able to preserve the feed in the same quality but for future use. A rule of thumb for harvesting forage is, the more mature a crop is, the lower the nutrients it possesses. This is because as the crop matures, it has less leafy content and more “harder ” parts such as a stronger stem resulting in lower nutrients and hence it is important that a farmer harvests the crop at the right time. The fibre content increases with maturity and it is unsuitable as it has lower palatability(so a farmer is likely to witness lower intake by the cows), less digestible and has a lower protein content level.
Wilting Is the process of making the crops loose some moisture. This can be done by laying the plants against the wall or on a rack outdoors and in the sun. When wilting, it is important to remember not to wilt in thick layers as the plants in the bottom will not be exposed to the sun/heat and may lead to decomposition undoing the silage making process. Turning severally is also advised. The crops should be wilted to around 30%DM. A simple test to determine whether maize is wilted enough, chop the maize to say 3cm length and squeeze in your hand, if there is moisture/hand is wet but no water dripping and it does not return to its original form quickly, then the crop is well wilted ready for silage making. Some farmers smash the nodes and stems to fasten the wilting rate.
The crops should then be chopped to lengths of between 1cm-3cm for several reasons:
• Having shorter chop lengths allows for better silage making. This is because longer chop lengths are more difficult to compress and displace the air within the crop especially the stems which are harder and hence more difficult to compress resulting in losses in the silage making process.
• Reports show that livestock especially young ones consume more with shorter length forages as compared to longer ones and more consumption of good quality forages usually results in higher milk production.Forage chopping can be done using a number of machines or by hand. Examples are shown below:
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This stage is carried out differently by different farmers. There are those that prefer spreading molasses on the chopped crop as they compact it while others prefer to compact as is. Especially in maize silage where I have heard seen some farmers ensile their maize without molasses and opting to utilize the natural sugars in the maize plant.
Whichever way you take, compacting must be done well and thoroughly.
This can be done in plastic tubes, a silage pit or above ground. What you are trying to achieve is to expel as much air as possible and to maintain the condition as is without allowing air in. This can be done by using the tubes or by lining the pit walls with plastic and cover with the same.
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