Wholecrop Silage Get it Right Every Time!

Turning cereal crops into wholecrop silage offers the opportunity to add an alternative, starchy forage to rations for dairy, beef and sheep. As a complement to good quality grass silage it can supply additional starch and rumen-stimulating ‘scratch factor’ to improve the ration structure, and fed as the sole forage source can work well as the base for beef and sheep finishing rations.

However, it is important to get each step of the process correct, from growing the crop right through to feedout. This means getting the agronomy right and aiming to produce as much yield and grain quality as you would if you were aiming to produce a bumper grain harvest. Assuming this has been done, choosing the optimum stage to harvest is the next step. In order to get the balance between starch yield and digestibility of the straw fraction right, the crop should be harvested at a dry matter content of 35% to 40%. The grain will be at the ‘soft cheese’ stage and the straw should still have some green showing. 

Use a forage harvester with a suitable wholecrop header and grain processor fitted, so that the crop is direct cut and all the grains are broken to expose the starch. Unbroken grains will tend to pass through the animal undigested, even after ensiling. Mowing the crop and picking up with a conventional forage header or baling it is not ideal because a lot of grain can be shed and lost in the process.

Aim to achieve a chop length of around 50mm. This is the ideal length to promote good rumen function, helps to avoid ration ‘sorting’ and also allows for good consolidation in the clamp.

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 probably the most effective way of minimising the costly damage these organisms can cause.

Mark Amesbury, who runs a beef enterprise near Bristol, says: “We have had trouble with wholecrop in the past, with spoilage and heating at the face, but the preservative, Safesil, has kept it absolutely stone cold.”

Simon Ward, who milks 220 Holstein/Friesian cows near Wadebridge in Cornwall, agrees. “When we feed out the forage it is stone cold and it’s remained that way right through the clamp since we started using Safesil. It’s true the product is more expensive, but when you go to the trouble of doing everything right - maybe using three or four fungicides through the growing season – allowing it to heat up and lose quality at feed-out is just such a waste,” he says.

Good practice during clamping will always pay dividends. The clamp, and all areas where the crop is tipped and handled prior to ensiling, should be kept as clean as possible to reduce the level of contamination with harmful microorganisms. Line the clamp walls with new, good quality side sheets (heavy-duty 150µm side sheets 4, 5 and 6m x 50m are available from Kelvin Cave Ltd) to eliminate the risk of air penetration and allow for effective sealing with the top sheet once the clamp is full.

The key to success with all silage, and none more so than wholecrop, is compaction, compaction, and compaction! Achieving better compaction whilst saving fuel is another of the innovations brought to the UK by the company in the form of the SilaPactor.

John Mann, who farms 300 cows in Cumbria, was one of the first to invest in one in 2011, and says, “The ability of the SilaPactor to consolidate the silage tight to the clamp walls, eliminating air pockets and increasing silage density, means we get no clamp ‘shrinkage’ and everyone notices how
cleanly the shear-grab cuts this well-compacted silage.”

Having got this far, sealing the clamp to exclude air completely and protecting the sheet from the risk of bird damage is the final step.

O2 Barrier 2in1 top sheeting (green/black top sheet bonded to oxygen-barrier vacuum sheet) is the ideal solution to provide a truly effective oxygen-proof seal for any ensiled feed as many farmers throughout the UK have discovered. 

Using O2 Barrier reduces time and labour costs and eliminates the risk of waste on the top and shoulders of the clamp. Weighing down the O2 Barrier with 

300g/m2 ClampNet and gravel bags and/or ClampTiles (the clean alternative to dirty old tyres) will ensure that none of your valuable wholecrop will be wasted. 


Follow this link to several videos showing crops at the wholecropping stage:


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