Ever eaten a juicy forkful of sauerkraut? It’s incredibly good for you. More to the point, it’s the technique behind sauerkraut’s production that inspired German farmers of the 1870s to use fermentation to preserve pasture for their animals. Yes, silage has a long history. And it remains a crucial food source for dairy cattle to this day.
What makes silage so good for dairy cattle?
It’s nutritious (and delicious)
Good old fermentation. It’s the process that converts grass sugars to acids. These acids preserve the nutritional value of your silage by preventing spoilage micro-organisms from utilizing the nutrients. When you get the ensilage process right, you are left with a product that cows find tasty and has minimal nutritional losses in comparison to the original pasture.
Of course, dairy cows require lots of energy to preserve body condition and maximise milk yields. High quality silage is an abundant source of energy, protein and fibre that aids rumen health. Not bad for a bunch of old grass, is it?
Silage trumps hay any day
In comparison to hay, silage preserves more nutrients from the original pasture. To put it another way, nutritional losses are smaller when you convert pasture to silage as opposed to hay. Weather plays an important role in the production of nutritionally rich hay, which isn’t ideal in a country as meteorologically temperamental as the UK.
What makes silage good for dairy farmers?
So we’ve established that silage is good for your dairy cows. And what’s good for your bovine is good for your bottom line too. Here’s why.
It’s a cost-effective source of food
Margins can be tight in dairy farming. You will already be used to monitoring closely your costs of production. As a home-grown food source, silage is a cost-effective and sustainable way to provide your herd with many of the nutrients and calories they need to stay healthy and productive.
Silage prevents precious pasture going to waste
There’s a lot to love about springtime. Nature bursts into life and your pastures may grow faster than your herd can make use of them. Collecting the excess pasture for silage is a great way to preserve nutrients for autumn and winter when pastures are less productive and the weather outside is too grisly for cowkind to contemplate.
>> Cow comforts: keeping your cattle productive in winter housing
Silage is spatially economic
It takes way less space to store silage than it does to store loose hay. In fact if you were to store equal amounts of dry matter you would need three times more space for loose hay than you need for grass silage. Even once it’s baled hay takes up more room than grass silage. That’s incredibly useful if space on your farm is at a premium.
How much net energy is in silage?
Feeding dairy cattle is a precise science. While the aims are simple (maintain body condition score and optimise milk yields), getting it right can be incredibly difficult in practice. That’s why it’s so important to carefully scrutinise the diets and nutritional intake of your herd.
Net energy is a measure of how much energy from food intake an animal uses for productive purposes. This measure is also known as metabolisable energy.
The net energy of silage is highly variable. The nutritional content depends on the quality of the original pasture as well as the quality of the fermentation process and storage. However research shows that in dry matter grass silage provides 9-12 MJ/kg. That’s broadly comparable to common cereals like wheat and maize as well as sugarbeet pulp and molasses.
How can you boost your milk yields?
As a dairy farmer one of your main goals is to prevent your herd milking off their own backs. It’s essential to provide the energy necessary to maintain body condition and the energy necessary for each cow to reach its milk production potential. Silage is an important nutritional tool for achieving those targets. But silage alone is not nutritious enough for your dairy cows to reach their potential.
That’s where fat supplements come in.
If you want to optimise your milk yield - and the quality of your milk - it’s essential to use a carefully considered dietary supplement. And pound for pound fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient of them all. Megalac is a fat supplement that has been proven to boost milk yields and enhance fertility. Even better it’s a rumen-protected supplement. That helps to maintain optimum rumen function and ensures the energy in Megalac is used productively.
>> How to maintain a healthy rumen in dairy cattle
Over to you
Grass and silage are cost-effective ways to keep your cows happy, healthy and productive. But to maximise the milk quality and milk yields from your herd, you need a reliable fat supplement to fill the nutritional gaps that grass and silage alone cannot satisfy. Read about the science behind Megalac at megalac.com.
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>> More fat, more profit: are you feeding enough fats to your dairy herd?