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Elevated Ash and Low Dry Matter Silages Can be a Bad Combination!!

Ray McLaughlin, Key Account Manager

With the arrival of spring and the new growing season, now is a good time to focus on how to make high quality forages over the coming months. For most producers, grass, small grain, and alfalfa silages (haylage) will be the first crops of the season. One of the most common fermentation problems with these crops is the production of too much butyric acid. This happens when Clostridium bacteria grow in your silage and convert digestible nutrients (sugar and protein) to butyric acid and other waste products. Clostridium bacteria are anaerobic bacteria that grow very well in low dry matter forages.

When your haylage has elevated levels of butyric acid, be prepared for reduced dry matter intakes, production losses and potential health problems such as ketosis. It only takes 50 grams of butyric acid intake to create a risk of ketosis in early lactation, and just 11 pounds of dry matter at 1% butyric acid will deliver 50 grams. It is not uncommon to find composite haylage samples from bunks and piles that are in 1-2% range for butyric acid, or to find some wet layers in a pile of haylage that contains as much as 5-6%.

There are several strategies we can take to minimize the production of butyric acid in our haylage:

-Harvest at the correct dry matter. Since Clostridium bacteria like low dry matter environments, it is critical to avoid haylage that is too wet. I recommend that you do everything you can to harvest alfalfa haylage between 35% and 45% dry matter, and grass type haylages between 30% and 40% dry matter.

-Avoid making high ash haylages. The ash level you see on your forage analysis report reflects the total mineral content of your haylage, but it includes both plant mineral as well as any that might come from soil contamination. High levels of soil contamination also contribute to high butyric acid in the silage because soil can contain a lot of Clostridium bacteria that will produce butyric acid during fermentation. Additionally, ash from soil contamination acts as a buffering agent that keeps the pH high and results in poor preservation of forages, not to mention the fact that this extra ash contributes indigestible nutrients that take up space in the diet. Following are some strategies for avoiding high ash in your haylage:

a. Raise the cutter bar of the disc bine to a minimum of 3-4 inches

b. Use flat knives (versus cupped or angled) on your disc bine

c. Use mergers to avoid dragging forage across the ground

d. If using rakes, adjust to keep tines off the ground

e. Store silage piles on concrete/asphalt

-Use an inoculant that can inhibit butyric acid production. SILOSOLVE® MC is a science-based, research-proven silage inoculant from Chr. Hansen that has a patented effect against the growth of Clostridium and, consequently, will result in less butyric acid production in your haylage.

Some final points:

If you have no choice but to harvest forages that are too wet, you might want to have a separate silo or pile so that it can be fed out as soon as possible after harvest. If you can get it fed out before 40 to 50 days, you might be able to get through it before too much butyric acid is produced.

If you have haylage that has already fermented and has high levels of butyric acid (> ~1.5%), you might try to remove it from the face a day ahead of time and allow it to air out for 24 hours before adding to the diet. This will allow some of the butyric acid to “evaporate” out of your feed before feeding it.

Feed BOVAMINE® Dairy Plus to every cow in your herd every day because it helps your cows perform normally, even in abnormal situations. It contains the four most effective and extensively researched probiotic strains in the world and can help maintain gut health no matter what challenges you might be facing.


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