Fodder conservation is an important tool for evening out peaks and troughs in pasture production and better matching feed demand to supply.
Excess feed can be conserved in times of abundance and fed when pasture production and feed supply is low.
The nutritional profile of the conserved feed is important and is influenced by the feed to be conserved (the plant species and stage in the plant growth cycle) and the method of fodder conservation.
This refers to attributes such as:
- digestible energy
- dry matter percentage
These attributes directly influence the productive potential of the feed when fed to livestock. This in turn will determine whether production objectives can be met or not.
The most common forms of fodder conserved on farm are hay and silage.
Hay is the most common fodder conservation practice. Most crops and pastures can be made into hay of varying quality. All successful hay making relies on wilting the cut pasture to a moisture or dry matter level where it is dry enough not to ferment, but wet enough not to shatter when baled. This is usually at about 12% dry matter.
If hay is baled with too much moisture it can ferment leading to heat generation, feed quality decline and a potential fire risk.
Silage is made by ensiling or fermenting pastures. It generally produces better quality feed than hay. This is due to the reduced interval when making silage between cutting and conserving the feed – the longer the time, the more the feed nutrients degrade. Silage can be used to assist weed control and pasture management where grazing pressure is required, but livestock are not available.
Pasture should be cut for silage when at its most vegetative stage with no more than 20% of the pasture showing seed heads. This is then wilted to about 30% dry matter before being chopped and ensiled in an airtight environment. Early cut silage will have higher quality, but less quantity.
The production and storage of silage relies on an anaerobic(air-free) environment. This promotes the desired fermentation processes and inhibits undesirable processes and decay. It is critical that an air-free environment be maintained from the time the silage is made until it is fed out.