Take advantage of short rains, make silage

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With the expected rains, farmers can boost their fodder reserves by using excess crop residue on the farm or plant short season crops. When making silage, the chopped crop is stored in airtight bags, pits or silos. It ferments resulting in the production of acid, which prevents decomposition and growth of unwanted organisms that can spoil the fodder.

The acid kills the microbes and the silage can be stored for a long time and fed to animals especially during the dry season.

Crops suitable for silage making

Crops having good percentage of sugar and appropriate dry matter (35-40%); and moisture (65-60%) are good for making silage. These crops include maize, sorghum, oats, Napier grass and leguminous crops like desmodium and lucerne. These will however need molasses to quicken fermentation.

Silage is a highly nutritious fodder that farmers can make and conserve for feeding animals in the dry season. It is wise to make silage now when there is a lot of crop residue for fodder preparation.

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Harvest at right time

Crops should not contain more than 75% moisture while making silage. Dry crops with high moisture in the sun for about 5 hours to reduce moisture content. You could also add dry hay or straw (about 15%).

• Harvest Napier grass at 1m height. Maize and sorghum should be harvested at dough stage, when the grain is milky. This will reduce the amount of molasses to be added because the grains have enough soluble sugars.

• Crops with stems should be chopped into pieces about an inch in size each to prevent trapping of air and spillage of nutrients.

• Legumes should not exceed 30% of the total material ensiled.


When making silage, the following additives can be used:

Molasses: Adding molasses gives bacteria sugars for quick fermenting action, especially in cases where the feed being ensiled has legumes like lucerne and desmodium, which  have low sugar levels. It also improves the taste of the silage. Molasses may be added at the rate of about 9 kg/ton of green weight silage or 4% of silage material.

Urea: Cereal forages can be enriched for nitrogen (protein) content by spraying urea at the rate of 0.5 – 1kg for every 100kg of fresh forage. Farmers should, however, be cautious when adding urea because excess urea can be poisonous to animals.

Lime: This can be added at a rate of 0.5–1.0kg for every 100kg of maize silage to increase acid production.

Feeding amount

A mature high yielding dairy cow can consume about 35 kg of silage per day. This can be divided into 3 feeding portions. In addition to this, make sure the cow has access to wilted green-grass or hay, legumes, mineral lick and adequate water. If the cow is a high producer, also provide good quality concentrates, preferably immediately after milking. These should contain minerals, trace elements and vitamins.

How to prepare pit silage

Farmers making silage in pit silo: A pit silo should be well covered to avoid water seepage. A drum can be used to compress the silage to remove air. Photo: ILRI, Stevie Mann

To conserve larger amounts of fodder for several animals, you can prepare silage in pits. For a silage volume of 1m wide, 2m long and 0.75m high you need about 1,000kg of fodder, or 20 big bags of fresh, chopped material, 10 litres of undiluted molasses and about 7 x 3 m

polythene sheeting (1000mm gauge).

• Prepare a level pit preferably on slightly sloping ground for better drainage of rain water.

• Place a big polythene sheet (1000mm gauge) on the floor and walls of the pit and cover also about one metre of the ground on all sides so that the forage does not come into contact with soil.

• Chop the forage to pieces of about 1 inch long, using either a panga or a chaff cutter.

• Empty the chopped material into the plastic lined pit, and spread it evenly.

• Dilute 5 litres of molasses with 10 litres of water. Use a garden sprayer to sprinkle and distribute the solution evenly over the forage.

• Compact the forage by stepping or pressing down on it (use clean boots, a drum with filled water or a tractor).

• Add more chopped feed, sprinkle it with another 5 litres molasses diluted with 10 litres of water and compact the forage again. Repeat this process after adding four bags of forage, apply the molasses while compacting until the pit is filled in a doom shape.

• After a final pressing, wrap the polythene sheet around the silage and cover it with a second sheet.

• Then cover the heap with a thick layer of soil (at least two feet) to keep the air out and to prevent damage of the polythene by rain, birds and rodents. With good sheeting and enough soil on it, the silage can be kept for more than one year.

Qualities of good silage

• Good silage is green or light yellow-green, smells like vinegar and has a firm texture.

• The taste should be moist, pleasant and acidic, and cows will like to eat, once they get used to it.

Removing silage from pit

Farmers with a few animals can preserve silage in polythene bags.

• Silage should be ready within 2-3 weeks of sealing.

• Silage may be fed from top, layer by layer, daily.

• Once the silage pit is opened and the day’s ration is removed, make sure the pit is closed airtight.

• Rainwater should be channeled away from the pit.

• On exposure to air for long periods silage gets spoiled. Hence, try to prevent entry of air into the pit.

• To avoid silage flavours in milk, feed animals after milking, or at least 2 hours before milking.

>>Tell us how useful this information is to your farming enterprise. Share your experience by email to admin@theorganicfarmer.org,  leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.


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