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Volume 4 Number 4

Producing High Quality Alfalfa Silage Requires Paying Attention to Harvest Maturity, Wilt Times, and Length of Cut
High quality alfalfa silage production requires 1) cutting the crop at optimum maturity, 2) monitoring wilt time in the field to achieve a proper ensiling moisture, and 3) making sure the chopper is set at desired theoretical length of cut (TLC) for ideal silage fermentation and rumen health. The following table provides guidelines for these factors.
--------------------Storage Type-------------------Maturity Mid to late bud or 26-36 inch stem height or <30% ADF, <40% NDF Bunker Stave Sealed Bagged Balage Theoretical Length of Cut (TLC) ---inches--1/4-1/2" (except balage)

---------------------% 65-70 60-65 65-70 60-65 65-70 60-65 65-74 65-70 55-67 55-63

Moisture--------------------55-60 55-65 60-65 55-60 55-65 60-65 55-60 55-65 60-65 N/A 65-74 N/A 50-55 55-60 55-60

MATURITY dictates the feeding value of the alfalfa crop. Harvesting the crop at 30% ADF and 40% NDF will have a relative feed value of 150, which is ideal for lactating dairy cows. However, alfalfa managers have to account for harvest and fermentation losses when considering final harvest maturity. Therefore alfalfa cut at 27% ADF and 37% NDF will have a RFV of 170, and will result in a final 150 RFV at feedout. Several field-based methods exist that help predict alfalfa maturity: 1) assessment of plant growth stages, 2) growing degree days (GDD), 3) taking scissor cutting for laboratory analysis, and 4) using the Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ). The PEAQ procedure, which was developed by University of Wisconsin forage researchers, is the easiest to utilize. Refer to GrowingPoint Nutrition Today article titled Harvest Alfalfa at Optimal Quality and Maximize Milk Production Using Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ) for details. MOISTURE is determined by wilt-time and is the greatest variable dictating how well the alfalfa crop will ferment in the silo. The recommended moisture level is determined by the type of storage structure as listed in the above table. Alfalfa ensiled into a bunker silo at less than 60% moisture may undergo aerobic instability and result in heating and shortened bunklife. Ensiling the crop at greater than 70% moisture may result in Clostridial fermentation. If a decision has to be made to harvest the crop either too wet or too dry, its better to err on the dry side since wet alfalfa is highly prone to Clostridial fermentation. TLC is determined by the shear bar setting on the chopper and will greatly influence how well the crop will pack in the silo. As the forage becomes dryer, shorten the TLC setting to minimize air entrapment in the silo for better packing. The TLC setting also determines how much effective fiber will be available to the dairy cow; a shorter setting can be used if long stem dry hay is in the ration and/or if processed corn silage was harvested at a minimal TLC. Alfalfa silage should be treated with one of several Pioneer Inoculants, depending upon harvest and ensiling management conditions. A crop ensiled in excess of 70% moisture can benefit from Pioneer brand Inoculant 1127, whose strains are designed to produce more lactic acid and potentially minimize chances of Clostridial fermentation. A crop ensiled at less than 55% moisture will benefit from Pioneer 11A44, which has a Pioneer patented Lactobacillus buchneri strain that will minimize aerobic instability at feedout. Alfalfa that is ensiled at ideal moisture should be treated with either Pioneer 11H50 or 1174, depending upon the silage quality and feeding goals of the silo and livestock producer. See your Pioneer Sales Professional to discuss which Pioneer Inoculant product will work best for your alfalfa silage.

Nutrition & Feed Management TODAY VOL. 4 NO. 4 PAGE 1


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