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Step by step preparation of quality silage for your dairy animals

Animals feed in one of the dips at Eldoret Technical Training Institute Kapseret area in Uasin Gishu County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

For farmers in livestock enterprises such as dairy cows and goats farming, there is a need to find an alternative source of feed since the cost of commercial dairy meals has skyrocketed.

Research indicates that the key to unlocking the potential of dairy farming lies with the improvement of feeds and reducing the cost of milk production. Silage has thus become the go-to feed source to run the dairy systems since it is wholesome, nutritious, can be stored for long, and reduces significantly the number of commercial feeds needed in a farm to improve and sustain milk production.

What is silage?

Silage is any crop that is harvested green and preserved in a succulent condition by partial fermentation in more-or-less airtight conditions. 

The desirable material used in silage making should have a moisture content of 60-70 per cent and pH below 4.2 for wet crops and below 4.8 for wilted silage. The species of grass used include Napier, sorghum, maize, and sugarcane tops. 

Silage helps counter feed shortages during dry seasons and ensures that enough feed is available all year round; hence animals remain in good health. Silage can be made using fresh or wilted material.

How to make silage?

The crop should be ready to harvest: The seed of forage sorghum or maize should be soft but not milky when you squeeze it open. Napier grass needs to be about a meter high. Legumes should have young pods which are not dry.

If it has been raining and the forage is wet, or if the forage seems immature when the seed is very milky, then it is best to harvest and leave it in the sun for a few hours to wilt as too much water can spoil the silage.

The chopping and bagging area or silage pit must be clean and dry. For the materials that are low in nutrients, maize germ may be added to enrich it.

Ensure proper compaction whether pit or bag silage is being made. For small volumes of silage, compaction can be done using a cylindrical drum full of water. A tractor can be used to compact large volumes.

Anaerobic fermentation

Seal the silage material and make sure the silo is air-tight. Silage is formed through anaerobic fermentation by microorganisms.

When the need arises, carefully open a small portion of the silage, remove what you need and seal the remaining silage.

Common methods of silage making

The common method of silage making is through the use of trench/pit silos and plastic/bag silos.

A trench silo is built underground or semi-underground. A tractor or heavy loads such as a metallic drum full of water are used to compact the material within the silo. The silo is then covered with a plastic sheet, weighed down with soil. This helps maintain anaerobic conditions.

For plastic silos: Harvested fodder is chopped into 1-inch lengths, mixed with molasses diluted in water. The mixture is then packed into a polythene tubing. When the tube is filled, tightly tie both ends. The bag is then placed in an airtight container for fermentation to occur. The advantage of plastic silos is that they are low cost and can be moved easily.

The quality of silage obtained, with maximised nutrient preservation, depends on the quality of the fodder used, the ensiling process and use of molasses. For example, Napier grass should be ensiled when 1 metre in length.

Properly ensiled material can store silage for up to a year without losing quality. 

Pit silage

The crop should be ready to harvest: The seed of forage sorghum or maize should be soft but not milky when you squeeze it open. Napier grass needs to be about a metre high.

If there are legumes growing between the crop, make sure they have young pods which are not dry.

The chopping and bagging area or silage pit must be clean and ready for the forage. If possible, a big piece of plastic should spread.

Ensure proper compaction whether pit or bag silage is being made. Seal the silage material by ensuring no air can penetrate. Silage is formed through anaerobic fermentation by microorganisms.

When you need the feeds, carefully open a small portion of the bag and seal the remaining silage immediately to maintain freshness.

Farmers can make extra income by selling excess silage, especially for bag silos.


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