For small-scale farmers, raising cattle and buffaloes is been a laborious and intensive job, often requiring help from other family members.
If the animals are not grazing outside, fodder needs to be cut and brought up daily as it will soon rot after harvest, and only small amounts can be left to wilt at a time. One animal may be fed up to 25 kilograms of fodder, twice a day. This requires a lot of land and labor. Because green fodder varies in protein and water, large volumes are needed to make cattle grow strong and give plenty of milk.
Therefore, many farmers also provide grains, concentrated wheat to supplement their diet, so these can be expensive. It limits the ability of small-scale cattle raisers to expand the animal numbers. One way to preserve nutrients in the green fodder and extend its storage to over one year is by transforming it into silage. This, therefore, leads to saving money.
Without any air, finely chopped green maize ferments without rotting. This is because micro-organisms digest the sugar in the fodder and produce lactic acid which acts as a natural preservative. This fermentation also makes the starch and natural fibers of the maize easier to digest. Once transformed into silage, the green fodder has a different taste, is less bulky, and contains more nutrients. This also has a positive impact on the animal’s health. Such feed avoids the problem of kidney and digestion that mostly occurs with other feeds like Lucerne with higher water content. With silage, the animals digest better because they get a more diverse diet by also combining silage, Lucerne, and other animal feed. They hence, get a complete diet.
Good fermentation & chopping:
The key to making silage is to create the right conditions for good fermentation. The first step is to harvest the entire maize plants when their ears are at full size and the plants are still green. At this stage, the kernels are full of sugar that is needed for fermentation. To make silage your corn stalks still need to be green, containing enough water. It shouldn’t be yellow and dry, instead, the kernels need to be fully developed. Silage has to be made with hours of chopping the maize. Or else, it’ll start to decompose and not be suitable for silage. The fodder can also be cut by hand but this will require a lot of labor.
So, it is better to use a chopper that can easily cut the maize into small pieces, about 1-2 centimeters. This is the best size for the cattle’s digestion. If no chopper, then it is better to rent one for making proper silage. It is crucial to inspect the maze before it is being chopped as some stalks churn faster than others. Mature stalks are set aside to directly feed the cattle, instead of chopping them.
Preparation for storage & prevention:
Next, The chopped maize is collected in a truck or container and moved immediately to the place where it’ll be utilized to make and store silage. If left too long in the open air, the pile of it will heat up and this will increase the chance that everything will get spoiled. By making silage close to where the cattle reside, one could save time and labor each day he feeds the animal. The area for silage can be outdoors, on a roof, or in a spare area close to one’s house. One cubic meter can store half a ton of silage because you cannot move it once it is made.
It is also important to see that the storage place is free from potential disturbances and to make sure that it is prevented from watchers as this will rot the silage, and from animals that may dig into the silage pile.
Next, a strong plastic sheet is needed to cover the silage pile. The sheet should be laid in such a way that the part of it is securely tucked under the silage pile. To protect the silage from dirt and moisture, some sheeting and recycled bags are put on the ground. The first layer of chopped maize can now be put on it.
To reduce the air pockets, the pile is compressed by putting bodyweight followed by each layer added and doing the same thing. For larger piles, a tractor can be used to compress. The more compression, the more air is removed out from the pile to ensure a good fermentation. After the compression process, the pile is now covered with a thick plastic sheet by pulling it over and across the pile. It is to be made sure that the sheet is tucked tightly to avoid any air pockets. To keep the pile compressed for fermentation, sand is slowly spread over the sheet, from the middle of the pile to outwards. As more sand is added, the air is squeezed outwards from the edges of the pile. At least, 20 centimeters of sand are put on the top of the pile. Finally, the edges are secured with the help of bricks, heavy objects, or additional sand to prevent air from getting inside.
If any tears are noticed in the plastic, they should be patched up with some tape or more plastic to reduce the chance that dirt or air can get in and ruin the silage. As air is forced out from the weight of the sand, it is soon seen that the weight of the pile will get smaller in the first two weeks.
Inspection of the silage:
How do we know that the silage is ready? After 45 days, one can lift the side of the pile and check the color of the silage. It should be in yellowish-brown color, should have a different smell, and feel damp when touched. If white spots are noticed in the silage, it is a sign that the silage is rot or there’s too much water in the silage. It will turn black. On the contrary, good silage has a distinct yellow color that tells when is ready to use as feed.
Fermentation slows down in cold weather, so it is best to check the silage carefully, in a small opening before starting to use it as feed. Normally, the outer layers would be a little darker, as they have been exposed to more air than the center of the pile. Once the silage is ready to use it is crucial to let as little air as possible enter the pile, even when you take from it daily, and also to remove any silage that is too dark or rotten. Over time, air can contaminate the pile faster. One should take extra care and precautions to open the pile from the same place until the pile is consumed. To avoid sand getting into the silage, the plastic should be rolled carefully.
Large animals would require 20-25 kilograms of silage daily. Like any new feed, it is always best to introduce the silage gradually, so that the animals get used to the taste. If up to 1 quarter of the animal’s diet is silage, one would see good results in a month. It is best not to feed the animals under 6 months as their digestive system are not fully developed. Silage is not easily digested by calves so they will not benefit from its nutrition. Maize farmers who don’t make silage do not profit from the entire plant and the stalks become a waste. But with silage, the stalks turn into good feed and the stocks are no longer a waste, with silage you pollute less.
Let us summarize the key steps to make silage:
- Prepare a space close to your cattle, free from watchers, and where you can keep silage all year.
- Make sure that the maize kernels are at the right stage to provide enough sugars for fermentation.
- Harvest the maize, when the ears are full. The corn should not be too dry or too wet and the stalks should still be green.
- If you make silage with freshly chopped maize, use a fodder chopper and chop it into small pieces that are 1 to 2 centimeters long for good fermentation.
- Compress each layer of silage to remove as much air as possible.
- Cover the silage with a thick plastic sheet and tuck it in well and weigh down with sand.
- Push the air outwards before finally making it airtight.
- After 45 days, check the silage if it is yellow-brown and has a slightly sweet smell.
- Only remove the amount of silage you will need to use each day, and make sure to let as little air as possible.
By making silage, the animals benefit from the entire maize plant and will help give you good milk. Making silage is hard work for one day, but you read the benefits for the entire year, and sometimes it can be fun for everyone.
By- Shameen Kharat
Content Writer(Erakina by RTMN)