Reserve forage stocks have been used up completely or severely depleted in many parts of the country and, for many, a wet autumn resulted in reduced acreages of winter cereals being sown. Then we had the late and difficult spring weather delaying drilling of crops even further. In order to get rotations back on track and replenish conserved forage reserves, turning cereal and even pulse crops into wholecrop silage could be a useful option to consider.

Using cereal crops to produce good quality silage is often perceived as a simple, low-cost option and can help to get a starchy feed into ruminant rations, and wholecrop  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 into 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. 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 Pro as it passes through the harvester is the most effective way of minimising the costly damage these organisms can cause.

Safesil Pro’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. 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 three-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.

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