Close-up on wholecrop | Kelvin Cave Ltd

Close-up on wholecrop

Turning a cereal crop into good quality silage is often perceived as a simple, low-cost option for getting a starchy feed into ruminant rations, and also provides the benefit of rumen-stimulating ‘scratch factor’. 

However, if you cut too early the overall starch yield will be low because the plant has had insufficient growing time to produce enough sugars, through photosynthesis, to convert to starch in the grain. Cutting after the crop has reached 40% DM will give higher starch content, but this may be compromised by reduced digestibility of the whole plant, due to lignification.

The ideal stage to harvest is when the crop DM is between 35% and 40%, and the grain has the consistency of firm, cottage cheese; but, if it is not harvested, ensiled and preserved effectively, the end result can often be disappointing, with a poor quality, aerobically unstable (heating) silage exposing livestock to the risk of reduced intake and mycotoxin challenges.

With all wholecrop silages aim for a chop-length of around 50mm (2 inches) as this is ideal for the rumen and helps with good consolidation in the clamp. Make sure the harvester is fitted with a grain processor which is adjusted correctly to crack every grain. Even harvested at this stage, unprocessed grains will pass through the animal undigested.

Cereal crops almost always have high levels of yeasts and moulds and undesirable bacteria on them, and these have the potential to grow rapidly both in the sealed clamp (where they result in invisible energy and DM losses) and at the open face (where the losses are evidenced by heating). Treating the crop with Safesil as it passes through the harvester is the most effective way of minimising the costly damage these organisms can cause. 

Safesil’s unique blend of human food-grade preservatives is proven to destroy these harmful microorganisms whilst leaving the useful lactic acid bacteria to ferment the silage unchallenged. This results in more DM retained and silage that will remain stable for long periods once exposed to air. 

However, trials have shown that standard delivery equipment fitted to forage harvesters often fails to apply additives evenly - if at all - to all of the crop. But by retro-fitting a Silaspray SP Standard-Maxi to self-propelled or trailed harvesters an even, controlled and effective dose of additive can be delivered to all of the crop for optimum protection and zero wastage.

Well-compacted silage means more efficient use of available clamp space and less risk of air penetration into the silage face when it is opened. Using a SilaPactor to consolidate the crop in thin layers can increase compaction density by up to 40%, and saves time and fuel in the process because it works across its full 3-metre width – fewer tractor passes for a better end-result!

Air - or more precisely oxygen - is always the enemy of silage, so achieving and maintaining a good air-tight seal is essential. Good quality, strong side sheets on the clamp walls are vital, but actually most oxygen penetrates through the top sheet. Standard polyethylene silage sheets can allow up to 180g of oxygen/m2 to pass through them every day, resulting in composting rather than fermentation in the top silage layers. Sealing the clamp with O2 Barrier 2in1 silage film can reduce this to less than 30g/m2/day. 

O2 Barrier 2in1 consists of a 20µm polyamide film, which is a highly effective oxygen barrier, combined with an 80µm high-grade polyethylene top layer. Laid as a single sheet, the layers separate on the clamp. The polyamide layer is sucked down onto the top of the silage to ‘vacuum-pack’ it, minimising the risk of top and shoulder waste, while the top layer provides conventional protection.

Here’s a checklist of everything you need to make great wholecrop silage - every time: 

  1. Safesil is a special blend of food grade preservatives applied to the crop as it is picked up by the harvester. It eradicates all the major spoilage organisms - enterobacteria, clostridia, yeasts and moulds - that are present on forage crops in large numbers at harvest.

  2. Silaspray SP Standard-Maxi is a high-specification pump that can deliver high volumes of additive at rates of up to 550 litres/hour, equivalent to up to five litres per tonne. It is recommended for use with Safesil to ensure the correct application rate.

  3. SilaPactor speeds up the clamp compaction process almost four-fold, saving both time and fuel. At 3m wide and weighing about 4,000kg with 11 individual roller rings, it can increase dry matter compaction density by up to 40% compared to tractor rolling.

  4. O2 Barrier 2in1 is the ultimate in clamp protection, comprising a high-quality top layer covering a layer of very oxygen-impermeable polyamide vacuum film. The latter offers up to a tenfold decrease in oxygen permeability (<30 cm3 of oxygen per m2 per day).

  5. ClampTiles are made from 90 per cent recycled material with a life expectancy of around 15 years. They provide edge-to-edge clamp protection and can be stacked on pallets when not in use for easy storage. Unlike tyres, they don’t harbour rainwater and debris.

  6. ClampNet is a 300g/m2, heavy-duty green silage cover with seamed, stitched edges which offers added protection from attack by birds and vermin. ClampNets are reusable and feature reinforced ‘loops’ to enable secure attachment of gravel bags.

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