Archive: Manage clamp silage at feeding out

Published 10 October 14

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Manage clamp silage at feeding out

Having taken all reasonable steps to minimise waste during silage-making and storage, the next crucial stage is to manage feed out to optimise cow performance, minimise aerobic spoilage and feeding wastage, says George Fisher from the British Grassland Society. Here are three simple things to think about before getting into opening clamps and feeding out.

How often are you going to analyse your silage?

It’s amazing how many of us take just one silage sample, get it analysed and use this information to plan rations for the whole of the winter feeding period. No matter how successful you are at making and preserving high-quality silage, research shows that it changes in the clamp over time.

So, consider getting your silage cored (sampled properly) and analysed every four to eight weeks over the winter period (at least three times) so you can appropriately reformulate rations and make tweaks to optimise cow performance. Getting a DM, ME, D Value and CP done every time will cost, but this is nothing compared to the gains to be had in improving feed efficiency.

Managing the clamp face

Would you make your dinner and leave it outside in a British autumn for it to get frosted overnight and warmed up in the morning sun, and then enjoy eating it? Perhaps we shouldn’t expect our cows to enjoy the same experience.

Exposure to oxygen will cause deterioration where undesirable microorganisms become active, break down the acids that preserve the silage and pH begins to rise. The clamp heats up leading to spoilage. Nutritional value and palatability will reduce. In poor conditions, the production of mycotoxins can have adverse effects on livestock health and performance.

  • When opening the clamp, only pull back the top sheet as far as is necessary to expose the silage that is needed on a daily basis and use a narrow face, if possible. The aim must be to minimise the time and amount of silage which is exposed to the air and weather. In simple terms, as soon as silage is exposed to the elements, wastage rates increase
  • Try to take the clamp face back at least 2m a week and aim to get across the face every three to seven days, the importance of this speed across the clamp will vary depending on consolidation, dry matter, fermentation, residual sugars and climatic conditions. The key point is to avoid secondary fermentation. You need to go quicker with drier silages where consolidation will be poorer and the risk of spoilage higher, and in warmer weather
  • Keep a tight clamp face – use a block cutter or shear grab (not a bucket) and sharpen regularly
  • Keep silage sheeting close to the face during feeding out and discard any spoiled material
  • If spoilage does occur, contaminated forage should be discarded

 Keep it clean and reduce waste.

Try to monitor intakes and wastage so you get a good idea of how much the cows are eating.  Also pay attention to simple details which maximise intake and reduce wastage at feeding.

  • When using a TMR system, silage should not be left in the mixer wagon overnight. It might save you time in the morning but it’s reducing your silage quality and, therefore, you lose money
  • Clean the feed passage every couple of days or twice a week. Sounds simple, but it’s amazing what a difference a clean passage, with all the rejected silage removed, can make to intakes. If you don’t already thoroughly clean the feed passage regularly – try it for two weeks and see if it makes a difference to your system

More information on clamp silage can be found in chapter 9 of Grass+.