Silage is a high moisture forage feed, while traditionally stored hay is a low moisture forage. Many cattle breeds and other ruminants with sensitive stomachs, such as goats and sheep, digest this damp food easier and get more nutrition out of it than hay alone. Yet, silage is rarely the only feed source for animals for more than a short period of time. Careful handling of the fermenting material produces a safe, high quality feed that is low in risk factors like mycotoxins. With the right cover and regular checks, it’s possible to reduce wasted or low-quality silage.
Fermenting silage as a forage feed, especially with additives like formic acid or treatment like wilting, has a greater potential for supporting weight gain than other stored feeds like hay. Silage is a high protein feed as long as the right grain or grass is harvested relatively early in the growth stage. Since silage is also harvested while grains are immature and reaching their highest protein stages, they provide more nutrients and calories per pound than dry forage. Exposure to oxygen leads to the breakdown of important proteins during fermentation, so compacting a pile and covering it tightly with an impermeable barrier is essential to developing a healthy feed. Some research shows that early harvested and fully fermented grass silage has the same caloric supply as other popular dry feeds like sugar beet pulp, wheat, feed corn, and dry molasses. Grain silage, like chopped corn, can provide even more calories and protein than these feeds.
Long Term Storage
Even if the silage provides the same feed value as hay or purchased grain, it’s still uniquely valuable as an easy to store food source. Whether you need to build up a cache of stable feed for long winter blizzards or drought periods in the summer, silage takes months to ferment and then can last a year or more. With planning, it’s possible to maintain an affordable, on-site source of forage all year round regardless of weather conditions and temperatures. Since the fermentation process turns the sugars in the silage into acids, it’s naturally self-preserved. If there’s a large amount of lush grass produced at once and there’s a high risk of grass tetany from direct feeding, turning the feed into silage rather than hay will result in feed that lasts far longer with minimal special handling.
On Site Production
Hay is one of the only types of animal feed that is easy to produce on a farm. Silage is also adapted to on-site production, while grain production is tricky and requires more costly storage. As long as a farm has flat and well-drained areas to create bunkers or silo piles, it’s possible to bring in flexible silage covers and complete the fermentation process in place. Fermenting and storing feed on site, near where it’ll be used, reduces transport costs and ensures continuous access if snow obscures other roadways in the winter. There’s also no need to rent spaces for storing or processing the feed since it can be done on the open ground with a cover tarp to separate the silage from the ground.
Reduced Losses vs Hay
Turning fresh pasture or valuable forage weed growth into hay always results in substantial losses of feed. Some farms report a loss of 5% to 30% of finished feed volume when making hay, depending on the season, weather conditions, and the plants being hayed. In contrast, carefully made silage can achieve 0% losses of food value or volume from the harvest. When working hard to maintain a thriving pasture system, harvesting and storing valuable growth is more efficient when using silage rather than hay methods.
Making silage requires a little site preparation and the right durable covers, but it’s well worth the effort. Most farmers with more than a few head of cattle will find the fermented feed valuable during winter, drought and forage shortages. The high fiber and protein content, combined with relatively low starch and sugar levels, makes it an ideal food for all stages of cattle growth and most stages of sheep and goat development. Ordering a custom silage cover from BTL Liners is a great way to get started with this practice on your farm or ranch.