Back Get more milk from your maize silage

Date: 12 May 2014

The high milksolids forecast means most farmers are very focused on extracting as much milk as possible from the current season. With pasture growth in many areas once again being impacted by low rainfall, supplements will play a key role.

Maize silage is the very best autumn feed for dairy cows. It is cost effective especially if grown on the home farm or a run-off. Maize silage is highly palatable and therefore can be fed in large amounts when required. Maize silage is a forage which creates pasture substitution. Put simply this means if you feed a kilogram of maize silage drymatter to a cow, she will eat the maize silage and reduce her pasture intake. Feeding maize silage in the autumn allows farmers to build pasture levels while at the same time milking on for longer and lifting cow condition score.

Maximise your autumn milk production from maize silage by following the guidelines below:

• Harvest at the correct maturity. The ideal maize silage harvest drymatter is 30 - 38%. Crops which are >38% drymatter are more difficult to compact, resulting in a slower fermentation and higher losses at feed-out time.

• Use a quality silage inoculant. Quality silage inoculants improve silage feed value and reduce storage and feed-out losses. Not all inoculants work. Ask for product-specific trial data.

• Use a plant processor. The aim is to ensure that 99% (target minimum 80%) of the kernels are broken into at least four pieces. This will allow the rumen microbes better access to high energy maize starch.

• Where possible store maize silage prior to feeding. Research has shown that starch digestibility of stored maize silage increases as a result of the fermentation process1. Allowing maize silage to ferment 1 - 2 months before feeding will result in higher starch availability than feeding a freshly ensiled crop. It is ideal to feed carryover maize silage from the previous season while your new crop ensiles.

• Introduce maize silage slowly. This is particularly important if you haven't been feeding a grain source, as it will allow the rumen microbes time to adapt to higher dietary starch levels. Feeding too much maize silage too soon can result in a lot of grain in the manure and/or digestive upsets.

• Watch protein levels. In the late lactation cows require around 14% crude protein. For best milk production results, maize silage (7 - 9% crude protein) should be coupled with a good quality protein source (e.g. leafy pasture or high quality pasture silage, lucerne or a protein concentrate such as soymeal).

• Make sure cows have adequate access to clean water. Dairy cows require 5 - 10 litres of water per kilogram of drymatter eaten. This corresponds to a water intake of 80 - 160 litres per day for a cow consuming 16 kgDM. If you have cows that are spending significant periods of time on a feed pad, ensure that they have access to an adequate supply of clean water.

• Add macro-minerals where necessary. Maize silage is low in some macro-minerals (especially calcium, sodium and phosphorus). As the percentage of maize silage in the diet of a milking cow increases, it is more likely these will need to be supplemented.

If you haven't planted a maize silage crop, or arranged to buy one talk to your local maize silage contractor as there are still a few crops for sale in some areas. Don't miss out on the proven benefits of feeding maize silage in the autumn- it's simply the best supplement available.

Talk to your local Pioneer Area Manager, or call the Pioneer Technical Advice Line toll-free on 0800 PIONEER (0800 746 633).

Ian Williams

Forage and Farm System Specialist