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Sweet Twist on Silage Making Pays Off

The concept of producing silage in just 24 hours, commonly called "silage-in-a-day", has caught on among producers across North America. This approach, developed in the United States, is based on cutting forages into wide swaths early in the morning and ensiling (the term used to describe the silage-making process) late in the afternoon on the same day. The goal is to quickly harvest the forage crop and ensure that it retains the highest nutrient content possible for livestock feed.

Recent findings by a team of scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Université Laval in Quebec City will help producers in Canada continue to improve the way they make silage.

The Canadian scientists discovered a new twist. They have shown that the choice of forage species combined with late afternoon cutting into wide swaths may increase the sugar content in forages by 20 to 40 grams per kilogram of dry matter.

This means when two consecutive days without rain are forecast and wilting conditions are good, producers can combine afternoon cutting with wide swathing to ensile alfalfa within 24 hours of cutting that is high in sugars.

When the forecast calls for only one day of good weather, producers can cut their alfalfa early in the morning, leaving it to wilt in wide swaths and still ensile the forage within 24 hours, although its sugar content will be lower.

"Dairy cows will eat more forage when it has higher sugar content at the time of ensiling, and as a result, can increase their milk production by up to 5 per cent. Forage sugars help bacteria in the cow's rumen, or stomach, use nitrogen in the forage more efficiently."

– Dr. Gilles Bélanger, Forage Scientist, AAFC, Quebec City, Quebec

According to Dr. Gaëtan Tremblay, Animal Nutritionist at AAFC's Soils and Crops Research and Development Centre in Quebec City:

"Between 40 and 90 per cent of crude proteins in alfalfa silage degrades into non-protein nitrogen. To use this nitrogen efficiently, the rumen bacteria need sugar as a readily available energy source. If the bacteria don't have enough sugar, the surplus or unused non-protein nitrogen forms ammonia in the rumen and is excreted into the environment."

By better understanding the science behind forage nutritive value and silage making, the researchers are fine-tuning management practices to capture maximum feed value.


Photo Gallery

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Measuring an alfalfa swath
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Alfalfa plots for an experiment on wilting
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Alfalfa narrow and wide swaths

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