Monday, March 20, 2023

Producers remain the heroes in any great silage story

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

If the silage-making process was equated to a story the producer would be the hero and oxygen would be the enemy.

“Oxygen is the enemy and farmers need to get it out and keep it out if they want to make good silage,” said Dr Paolo Fantinati, head of European, Middle Eastern and African Technical Services at Chr Hansen A/S, during an Envarto farmers’ day held at the Bella Rochelle Wedding Venue near Heidelberg, Gauteng on 22 February this year.

“Plants and microbes are alive and therefore they need oxygen. This is something that we cannot avoid. However, the less time it takes for a producer to make his silage and seal the bunker, the better,” Fantinati said. “Oxygen that is left over in silage must be consumed as soon as possible to ensure that the anaerobic microbes can do their job. These microbes cannot grow where oxygen is present.”

The two periods in silage-making during which producers need to be extra careful is during the initial stages (harvesting and silo filling) and at the end when the silage is opened and reopened, Fantinati added. “Even a product that looks wonderful to the naked eye can contain mould and yeast. These micro-organisms can thrive as long as oxygen is present. This is why farmers should do everything in their power to eradicate oxygen as soon as possible.”

The problem with poorly made silage is that moulds and yeasts can grow and some of them can release mycotoxins that negatively affect the animal, weakening its immune system and giving way to diseases such as mastitis in cows. Fantinati said this was why it is important that silage is made as quickly as possible and that it should not be left unattended when opened.

Read more about environmentally sustainable silage practices.

Help during uncertainty

Dr Hannes Viljoen, managing director of Envarto, said the future of plant and animal health is currently very uncertain. “The challenges posed by the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in animals and humans is a problem that can be addressed through innovation and scientific research.”

The sustainability of the animal production sector depends on this research, Viljoen added. “End consumers are struggling with issues such as disease and population growth. Therefore, it is critical that farmers, nutritionists and veterinarians take hands in order to find solutions to the challenges producers face daily.”

Agri Technovation agronomist, Hestia Pienaar, said while most things in agriculture are beyond the control of producers, they can control agronomical factors with the help of technology. With the support of agronomists and technological advances, modern-day producers can get a clear indication of exactly what their soil looks like on any given day.

“Nowadays software programs can help farmers to determine their soil’s compaction depth. Through these programs producers are not only able to save on fuel – they can also ensure minimal disturbance of the soil.”

Pienaar added that it was important that soil is classed before the producer decides what to plant. “Nowadays it has become a trend for farmers to plant nut trees at the outposts of their farms. However, it often happens that those areas really aren’t suitable for the specific type of tree that is planted,” Pienaar said, adding that this disregard for scientific knowledge comes at a high price.

“When producers adhere to technical know-how, they won’t plant the wrong cultivar and they will save a lot of money when it comes to inputs, as they won’t for example use more fertiliser than is necessary.” Pienaar said along with the rising cost of inputs it has become more important than ever that producers know where their high- and low-potential soil lies.

How probiotics can help our heroes

Dr Bruno Cappellozza, manager of beef and dairy products at Chr Hansen A/S, said it is crucial that farmers ensure that they make high-quality silage else their animals would pay the price. “Healthier feed will ensure healthier cows, which will lead to better production.”

Cappellozza said this is where probiotics came in. “We still need to keep studying and learning about humans’ and animals’ gut systems more, but it is becoming clear that the gut composition can support health, and probiotics can also be a support tool in this regard. Probiotics, which are live bacteria, can help the animal by inhibiting potentially harmful bacteria, supporting the health of the herd.”

Cappellozza said that scientific research has indicated that for every one day a calf is sick during the pre-weaning period, it may produce up to 202,5kg less milk per lactation. A nutritional alternative that supports the health of the herd may therefore also support the productive performance of the animals.

Dr Ida Linde, a livestock scientist at Envarto, recently completed her doctoral studies on livestock production studying the effect of Chr Hansen’s probiotic, Bovacillus, on various South African livestock. “My research showed that there was definitely a health benefit to using probiotics,” Linde said, adding that there is a clear correlation between gut and overall health of the animal.

“In one of the trials (a milk goat trial) the farmer could observe that the animals which were given the probiotic had visibly whiter coats. Their hair was also much softer to the touch than the control group.”

Find out more about the 2022 Santam Agriculture National Silage King.

Distribute labour wisely

With regard to the role of labour in successful silage-making, Fantinati said it was also important to deploy the best workers or drivers at the silage bunker, rather than in the field. “Producers will usually decide to have their most skilled drivers on the field, but that person should actually be the one compacting the silage. The most trustworthy person should be there, because he or she should be able to drive the tractor at no more than 4km/hour, compressing no more than 10cm of silage at a time.”

It is also important that farmers avoid building round mountains of silage, and rather try to create a concave shape. “My advice would be to first try and make the silage as flat as possible and then start making it more concave towards the ends.” – Susan Marais, Plaas Media

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