There’s still a sense of inevitability among many farmers that dry matter (DM) loss and aerobic spoilage from the penetration of oxygen into the clamp are facts of life and yet, with improved clamp management, these can be greatly reduced, resulting in both improved nutrition and animal performance.
“Silage to any farmer is a valuable commodity and one that needs protecting,” explains Jennifer Hitchman, Silostop Technical Manager. “However, it’s long been accepted that 20% or more of the crop will be lost in the clamp. Recent advancements in sheet technology mean these losses no longer have to be accepted and can be significantly reduced.
“Oxygen barrier film technology takes traditional silage sheeting to the next level,” she says. “Common throughout the food packaging, medical and pharmaceutical industries (to name but a few), Silostop has developed a system-led approach to silage protection of the clamp that shows significant improvements in performance compared to other films that restrict oxygen ingression, but don’t stop it.
“Obviously, there are many factors to producing and storing quality silage: cutting times, compacting the forage into the clamp, and the methods used for feeding the silage from the face, for example, but a key and very influential element is the sheeting.
“It’s not unusual to find clamps ensiled with only a sheet or two of black/clear plastic weighted down with tyres, showing significant signs of top and side mould damage that can extend several cm or more into the clamp,” she explains. “This is the visible loss when the pH value increases, and identifies itself as mould growth and mycotoxin formation.
“But there’s also the associated, but less apparent, loss through heat and shrinkage. If the clamp is generating heat it’s a clear indication that the energy source producing the heat is coming from the silage itself. This is perhaps a negative example of biomass energy at work and something no farmer ever wants to see. By preventing the clamp from absorbing oxygen aerobic respiration heating and DM losses are greatly reduced.
“Over the past decade, advances have been made to improve ensiling techniques with the addition of a lightweight, flexible Silostop film that is laid directly on the top of the clamp. The film is drawn down on top of the silage and inhibits the further ingress of oxygen. Traditional black plastic top sheets cannot match the flexibility of these films, hence air pockets will always remain as ‘hotspots’ for mould growth.
“This technology is widely used around the world, and in recent years UK farmers have recognised the benefits of investing in this method,” Jennifer adds. Silostop’s 45 micron oxygen impermeable film has been shown to reduce dry matter loss in the top layer of the clamp by up to 50%.
With the correct management, it’s possible to achieve zero visible wastage,” says Jennifer. “This is a huge saving for farmers who should not only consider the saving on the deteriorated silage that they disregard. The real return on investment is with the nutritional content of the silage as it is a more palatable forage, essential for production. It’s easy to gauge what we waste by what we throw away. It’s not easy to measure what we can’t see, and the biggest returns only become apparent through a healthier, more productive herd,” she adds.