Silage is actually a fermented and high-moisture stored fodder which can be fed to cattle, goat, sheep and other such ruminants or cud-chewing animals. Silage is fermented and stored in a process which is called ensilage, ensiling or silaging. And silage is generally made from grass crops including sorghum, maize, barley, oats, millet or other cereals. Entire green plant (not just the grain) is used for making silage. Although, silage can be made from many field crops, and special terms may be used depending on type. For example, the silage is called oatlage which is made from oats, haylage is the silage which is made from alfalfa. Silage is actually made by following different methods such as by placing cut green vegetation in a silo or pit, piling the vegetation in a large head and compressing it down so as to purge as much oxygen as possible and then covering it with a plastic sheet, or by wrapping large round bales tightly in plastic film.
Silage making is very important where a farmer is practicing Zero grazing. And it is also equally important for a farmer who is doing pasturebased system, because this will enable him/her to have enough food the animals during dry spell or season.
FEEDING SILAGE TO THE LIVESTOCK ANIMALS
Silage is full of nutrients for the animals and it is good for their health. Silage ensures high milk and meat production and keeps the animals healthy. Silage is especially very good for the animals during the dry seasons. Silage is highly palatable, laxative, digestible, nutritious and it requires less floor area for storage than hay. Silage is definitely a very good source of nutritious food for the animals, and widely used as livestock animal’s food. It increases the overall production and keeps the animal healthy. Silage is used to make the animals gain more weight in short period. Silage is used to feed the animals in dry season when there is no scope for natural grazing. It is used as animal fodder and can be fed to most of the animals such as cattle, buffaloes, sheep and goats.
TYPE OF CROPS TO GROW FOR SILAGE
First of all, decide the type of crop to be grown for silage production, where you don’t have money to grow corn for silage grass can also be used for silage. You can choose both hybrid and perennial varieties of crops which can be grown in a short period of time and produced multiple times. Growing sorghum, maize, barley, oats, millet or other cereals will be very good for making silage. Silage can be made using fresh maize stalk when the maize reaches milk stage. Corn or maize stalk is the most common plant used for silage making because it is sweet in nature and that sweet taste gives more appetite to the animals as well as energy as you are aware sugar gives energy. It is not only the fresh stalks or grass can be used even the dry ones are good for silage making as long as you put molasses to sweeten them or making them to have a taste. The animals will be eating them because of the molasses flavor.
HOW TO MAKE SILAGE
The process of making silage is divided into several processes. You have to make proper plan and do everything according to the plan for making silage. First of all, decide the type of crop to be grown for silage, choose a dry place for digging a pit on slightly sloping ground, cut the greens using chop cutter, and then prepare and preserve the silage. However, here I will describe everything you should know on how to make silage for your livestock animals.
SILAGE MAKING METHODS
There is pit and surface silage making methods
- Pit silage making
Choose a safe and dry place for digging a pit. Choose the place on slightly slopping ground and the depth of the pit should decrease from the higher side of the slopping ground to the lower side by giving wedge like shape. Size, shape and dimension of the pit depends on the amount of the forage to be stored. For example, you have to dig the pit size of about 2 cubic meters for making 20 bags of silage. And you will need about 10 meters of polythene and 30 liters of molasses for such a pit.
Cutting the Greens / dry grass
After making the pit, harvest the greens or dry grass and cut them to small pieces by using a chaff cutter or a sword
Cover the Bottom.
Cover the bottom of the pit with polythene sheet for preventing the greens contact with soil. Also cover all the sides of the pit. Then place the chopped greens or dry grass into the pit and spread it into a thin layer and repeat the process until one third of pit is covered. Dilute 1 liter of molasses with 3 liters of water. And sprinkle the solution evenly on the greens or dry grass to be preserved. Using a garden sprayer for distributing the solution will be good but you can use a watering bucket or normal bucket. Sprinkling the solution throughout the silage pit will help in feeding the micro-organisms, for making the silage ferment quickly and saving the silage from rotting as well as making taste.
Pressing the Greens / dry grass
Then press the greens with feet or something heavy for making the air out and protecting the greens or dry grass from fungal attack. Do this very carefully, because very little air can even cause the fungus and damage the forage. Add more greens or dry grass into the pit after pressing and making more room inside the pit. Repeat sprinkling molasses and press again. Do this continuously until the pit is filled in a doom shape.
Cover the Pit
Cover the top of the pit with polythene sheet after final pressing. Covering the top is important to prevent the silage from any water contact, and if possible dig a small trench around the sides of the pit. Cover the top with soil, after pressing and covering the top with polythene. Doing this will make the air out and prevent the polythene damage from rain, birds or any other animals. Leave the pit until there is a shortage of fodder. Because the conservation through fermentation may take some time, even few weeks. If there is a shortage of fodder you should wait at least 2 weeks after making for it to be ready. The silage made in such process can be kept for long time, generally up to 2 years.
- Surface silage making
For surface silage making, choose a dry Place and then lay the plastic on the ground and add the chopped grass or stalks, sprinkle the molasses and compress them to remove air by running the drums full of water on the chopped grass. Add more of the grass and repeat the process until it reaches the level you want. Cover the top with soil, after pressing and covering the top with polythene.
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HOW USE SILAGE
Silage takes about two weeks and above to be ready for feeding depending on the weather conditions of the area. A good and excellent silage will have a good smell. Silage can stay for about 2 years and more depending on how you are managing them. When there is a need to get silage from where it was made from, open the pit or plastic from the lower side of the slope for using the silage. Then take enough silage fodder for one day and close the pit or plastic again. Repeat the process when you need silage for feeding your animals.
Hay making is the process of turning green, perishable forage into a product that can be safely stored and easily transported without danger of spoilage, while keeping nutrient loss to a minimum. This involves reducing its moisture content by drying the forage in the sun. The process of drying the green crop without significant change in aroma, flavour and nutritive quality of forage is called “curing”. This involves reducing the moisture content of green forages, so that they can be stored without spoilage or further nutrient loss. Making hay is one of the best ways to increase the year-round carrying capacity of the farm, as forage is harvested during periods of rapid, excess growth and then fed during stress periods. As a result, livestock farmers can feed cattle and other animals for 365 days in a year. If hay is harvested at the proper stage of plant growth and undamaged by weather, it can provide nutrients at the lowest possible cost, except for pasture or silage. Feeding hay to livestock helps reduce the amount of concentrate feeding as well as the cost of feeding animals in the dry season.
PURPOSE OF MAKING HAY
Haymaking serves two main purposes:
- To conserve excess forage during rainy season for use during the dry season when forage is scarce
- To produce a cost-effective, nutritional livestock feed.
WHEN TO MAKE HAY
The first task is to choose when to start making hay. It is usually best at the end of rains when there is plenty of sunshine and plenty of forage.
SUITABLE CROPS FOR MAKING HAY
Hay can be made from planted or natural pastures. Crops with thin stems and more leaves are better suited for haymaking as they dry faster than those with thick, pity stem and small leaves.These may include, among others:
- Napier or elephant grass
- Rhodes grass
- Legume crops such as soybeans, groundnuts
- And other grasses
Legume crops such as soybeans, groundnuts are good for hay making. Mixture of grass and legume crops with high percentage of legumes are excellent hay because legumes contain high percentage of proteins compared to grass.
STEPS IN MAKING HAY
The steps mentioned above in hay making MUST be followed in chronological order.
THE BEST STAGE TO HARVEST THE FORAGE IN HAY MAKING
Forage (grass) is cut before it is fully mature (long before it has seeded) to maximize its nutritive value. Although cutting hay early will result in lower total volume, it will have more nutritive value. Leaves are more nutritious than the stems, and so when cutting forage, it is important that it is cut with as much leaf and as little stem as possible in case of stalks, however, during drying the leaves (being more brittle) will tend to shatter of which a farmer should therefore handle that forage with extra care in order to minimize the amount of leaves that may be lost in this way. Do not leave cut forage to dry in a moist environment, as this will encourage the growth of moulds. These can be extremely harmful to livestock and to people handling it. The cut forage is laid out in the sun in as thin as layers as possible, and raked a few times and turned regularly to hasten drying. Chopping forage into small pieces like stalks, legumes etc
that cannot dry quickly after drying a bit will hasten the dying process. The drying process may take between 2 to 3 days. Hay should not be over dried as it may start to ferment and also become a fire hazard. The dried hay should ideally be stored in form of bales when the moisture content is low, ideally less than 15%. This helps storage and requires less space.
MAKING HAY BALES WITH BOX BALER
If you are a small scale farmer, use box baler to make hay bales for your animals.
- Make a baling box with dimensions 40cmx50cmx75 cm.
- Put 2 lengths of rope in the box as shown above.
- Put the hay into the box and press it down tightly by jumping on it.
- Tie the bale securely
- Remove the bale and stack.
HAY MAKING ON A LARGE SCALE.
Step 1: drive through the fields and cut the grass with a mower. It is recommended to use what’s called a mower-conditioner. A hay mower-conditioner crimps and crushes the grass after it cuts to promote faster drying of the grass.
Step 2: Leave the grass to dry on the ground for several days, 2-3 days or more depending on how fast they are drying.
Step 3: Once the grass is dry (but not completely dry), you have to rake it into mounded rows, called windrows. As you can see in picture above, they are in perfectly straight lines. You can do it manually if the portion is small but if the portion is big, you need to use the automatic raking machine like the one on the picture above.
Step 4: You have now to drive the baler over each of the windrows, and the baler will be picking up the dried grass and binds it together in large round bales.
Step 5: When you are done, you have to pick up all the bales and store them in a large shade (barns).
IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS IN HAY MAKING
If hay is dried in a moist environment, for example during heavy rains season, mould may grow on the hay. These moulds can be extremely toxic to animals as well as the people handling it. In such cases it is advisable to wait till the end of the rainy season before cutting the forage. This may lead to lower nutritional content in the hay, but this is better than toxic hay. On the other hand, drying the hay too fast may lead to shattering of the delicate parts of the plant, causing a subsequent loss of nutrients. For commercial farmers, to avoid this, drying can be done in barns (shade) by passing hot air through the forage. For small scale farmers, frequent turning of the forage during the day for quick dry is necessary.
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