Ask the Silage Dr: Optimum Alfalfa Dry Matter Content

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Q. What is the best dry matter content to ensile alfalfa?

A. Table 1 below shows the best harvest stage and DM level for alfalfa based on the type of storage structure you plan to use.

Table 1

Alfalfa contains sugars that start to degrade immediately after mowing, and sugars are needed to drive the ensiling fermentation. So, the key to high-quality hay silage is to wilt the crop to the proper DM level for ensiling in your respective storage structure as quickly as possible.

Leaving the mowed forage in wide swaths will result in much faster wilting and better preservation of plant sugars.

The potential for a poor fermentation, and butyric acid formation, in low DM haylages is a greater problem if forages are left in the field overnight. The mown plant is still actively respiring and burning sugars. Leaving forages in the field risks restricting the growth of lactic acid bacteria, resulting in a slower pH drop, which, in turn, allows clostridia to take over, producing a butyric silage.

Using an inoculant containing efficient homolactic bacteria, such as Pediococcus pentosaceus 12455, together with enzymes to generate sugars, results in a fast fermentation and inhibition of clostridia and other undesirable microbes.

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