Pop quiz: what’s a cow’s favourite smell? You may think this is a trick question and search for a complicated answer: fenugreek, vanilla, or caramel perhaps – appetising ingredients in calf mixtures. But if your first instinct was that the answer is freshly cut grass/hay – you’d be right according to one of the world’s leading flavour providers! We can see similar excitement towards that first shoot of spring grass when a horde of 24/7 housed cows are let out for the first time in spring, and after the initial two minutes of frolicking, the heads go down, and the ability to hoover up grass demonstrates a capacity for eating … to capacity.
The next question, however, might be ‘why does it matter?’. Similarly, there is a simple answer, and that is that input becomes output. What a cow eats, and how much she eats, becomes the milk she gives back (and the money made from that milk) – the more complicated part of this answer are the factors that make up this equation.
Some years ago, a cow would be around 600 kg; nowadays, that figure has risen to between 700 and 800 kg. So now she’s bigger, has more surface area (therefore more heat output), is expected to make more and more milk, and do it all on a too-small figure of intake recommended by outdated formulation software (or outdated consultants). A dairy cow of modern proportions has a capacity of 27-28 kg of DM (TMR or TMR plus compound) intake per day (it’s standard practice to predict potential Dry Matter intake based on around 3.5% of body weight). That may sound a lot, too much to achieve even, but many farms around the country are managing up to 16 kg of SiloSolve FC or SiloSolve MC treated silage intake alone.
Of course, while it is possible to get cows to eat poorly made, unpalatable silage, what is forfeited in the process? Energy loss, carbohydrate loss as CO2 and H2O, unwanted by-products like ethanol and some poor tasting acids, and some potentially toxic, and environmentally challenging by-products of protein fermentation . While oxygen is present and pH is high, proteolytic organisms, particularly Clostridia, can break down the amino acids (the building blocks of all proteins), generating ammonia which is a perfect indicator of how much damage has – and will – occur as a result. Biogenic Amines are created, and these directly place a limit in how much the cows will eat – not just of the silage, but of the whole ration.
The cow can smell and taste – up to 18 times more strongly than humans – those nasty amines (such as the aptly named cadaverine and putrescine); the end result is not only reduced appetite, but many metabolic processes are impacted, so that health, immunity, blood-flow, and rumen microflora activity, even cows with unhappy feet, can be partially due to what happened to this protein breakdown in the silage. Many of us are aware of the amine Histamine for its role in inflammatory responses in human physiology, but it’s not unusual to measure Histamine in silage, with its known potential effects for inflammation, blood vessel dilation, muscle contraction etc.
Humans cannot remove all the oxygen from a clamp by themselves, without expensive mechanical assistance (Vacuum silage, anyone?) which is when the majority of these pathogens thrive, and no amount of ‘perfect’ management will do the job that beneficial bacteria can – SiloSolve FC is the only silage treatment with patented, proven, oxygen scavenging bacteria, which reduces DM losses by 4% or greater. Effective at ensiling (oxygen gone in hours), during storage, and crucially at feed-out. In all crops, aerobic stability is improved for weeks. Rapid killing of yeasts, moulds, clostridia, enterococci, bacillus, even coliform pathogens, equals a better, healthier, silage. And you get to keep more of what you cut. A win-win for big, hungry cows!
Coming soon, too, is the mandated reduction of inorganic fertilisers in line with environmental pledges, and the necessity of pouring more slurry on our fields to make up for this loss – bacteria like Clostridia and E.Coli will be inoculating the grass before the silaging process has even begun, and the more slurry, the greater the risk of lower intake. Changes in the physical structure/components of the silage due to slurry change the equation of what elements are available to the soil for plant growth, but can also impact palatability, when for instance, over a period of years, silage crops reduce in Calcium and Phosphorus, but increase in elements like Potassium. Using an effective silage additive will no longer be ‘unnecessary’ for those who think they just make great silage on their own – it will be utterly indispensable. Our old view of a silage additive was that its role was to “stop silage going bad”, but the truth in the 21st century, is that just like making cheese, yoghurt, beer, you need to select the correct micro-organisms, the right strains, the right abilities, to ensure that the silage you make is the best nutritional package that your soil can produce.
Naturally, we think the benefits of SiloSolve are easily observable long before we get to these extreme scenarios, and many cows would agree. Chr Hansen (creators of the SiloSolve range) held a trial in which 0.4 kg of concentrate was replaced with a rise of 0.4Kg in SiloSolve FC treated silage, and not only did they maintain intake, their yield actually increased, demonstrating that the effect of treating the silage allowed not only a replacement like-for-like, but also changed the digestibility of the silage to make it more productive. That’s not just more money from the extra few litres, but it’s savings on the decrease in concentrate as well, not to mention the uptick in carbon footprint efficiency which already has a cash value, which is only ever going to increase, making every kg of forage that much more valuable – seems worth it to make the silage more palatable, no?
‘More milk from forage’ feels like an empty marketing slogan these days, but we want better than ‘squeezing more milk from unappealing, potentially harmful forage’. Our goal is making truly tasty silage – with all the health benefits it should have – to naturally encourage appetite, meaning higher intake and higher yield, without losing efficiency and while keeping out damaging bacteria. More milk from better forage (and less concentrate)… Oh, and more silage in the pit, as well as no need for a daily clean-out of troughs!