The effects of delayed planting are still being felt, and silage quality may be another potential victim. The good news is producers can make adjustments during harvest and ensiling to maximize the quality and quantity of silage available to feed.
“This planting season was way out of the ordinary, so we need to make changes to our usual silage plans, too,” explains Renato Schmidt, Ph.D., Technical Services - Forage, Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “If we’re prepared at harvest, we can still end up with high-quality, stable silage during feedout.”
There are three main concerns Dr. Schmidt warns producers to watch for in this year’s silage:
- Variability in forage maturities
- Increased mold growth
- Greater risk of clostridial fermentations
Addressing forage variability
Later planting means fewer growing degree units (GDUs). Many producers may have already changed their hybrid maturity at planting to help address this concern. But selecting a range of maturities can increase variation in moisture content at harvest, leading to variability in moisture levels and forage quality in the ensiling structure.
“The most important factor influencing forage quality is the maturity of the crop,” he says. “Harvesting forage with a high degree of variation in maturity levels means you’re going to see the same variations in the silage. This greatly affects the initial fermentation process, which sets producers up for pitfalls.”
Harvesting less mature corn also can increase risk of seepage, Dr. Schmidt advises. The first plants to be harvested are typically the wettest. When placed at the bottom of the storage structure, the weight of the silage on top will increase the likelihood of seepage.
To control the fermentation process, he recommends including a research-proven forage inoculant to stimulate a rapid, efficient fermentation. Inoculants that include lactic acid bacteria (LAB) such as Pediococcus pentosaceus 12455 — used across the Lallemand Forage Inoculant range — help increase the rate of pH drop. Quickly lowering the pH helps inhibit the growth of protein-degrading bacteria and reduce losses of the most highly digestible nutrients.
Preparing for mold challenges
The wet planting season could lead to increased opportunity for mold and mycotoxins. In particular, producers battling high insect pressure should be prepared for this challenge. Any physical damage to the corn plant — from insects, disease or weather — can lead to mold infestation and increase the potential for mycotoxin production.
In many cases, mycotoxins may be present even when there is no visible mold or bad smell coming from the silage, causing unforeseen decreases in production, increases in herd health issues and lower fertility rates when fed.
To help minimize mycotoxin-producing molds — and all molds that cause spoilage — producers should use a proven silage inoculant containing Lactobacillus buchneri NCIMB 40788 – found in Biotal Buchneri 500 — which reduces the growth of yeasts, the initiators of spoilage. In fact, L. buchneri 40788 applied at 400,000 CFU per gram of silage or 600,000 CFU per gram of high-moisture corn (HMC), has been uniquely reviewed by the FDA and allowed to claim improved aerobic stability.
Watch Dr. Schmidt explain how producers can create high-quality silage, even after a planting season like this one.
Getting ahead of clostridial fermentations
Delayed planting also may result in harvesting at higher moisture levels, which can increase the risk of a clostridial fermentation.
Any time forage is harvested below 30 percent dry matter (DM), there is a risk of clostridial fermentation. Clostridia are soil microorganisms naturally present on forages. When allowed to grow, they can produce butyric acid and a range of biogenic amines, resulting in a tell-tale fecal, or putrid, smell. Proper packing at ensiling, covering and sealing the structure quickly and efficiently, and using a research-proven forage inoculant for a fast initial ensiling fermentation all help reduce the chances of clostridia growth.
“A forage inoculant is always a good investment, but this year it’s even more important to help drive the initial ensiling fermentation and manage aerobic spoilage at feedout,” Dr. Schmidt says. “Even after we open this season’s silage, I recommend getting regular forage analyses to ensure livestock are getting a steady supply of nutrients. Make sure you check the dry matter levels of the silage being fed daily, as this alone can help minimize a major source of production variability.”
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