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Silage making for smallscale farmers

Content via FAO
How to improve the nutrition of farmers’ milking animals when each family keeps only one dairy cow? During the dry season, the major fodders available are wheat or maize straw, together with hay and concentrated feeds.

As a minimum, it is essential to provide a green fodder supplement to enhance rumen function for bovine animals. Therefore, one should develop winter fodder crops.

For smallscale farmers with limited production capacity, finding enough feed during the dry season to maintain good milk production is always a problem. Many are forced to buy hay, concentrates or silage just to keep their animals alive and are unable to benefit due to the higher prices paid for animal feed in the dry season.

What is silage?

Forage which has been grown while still green and nutritious can be conserved through a natural ‘pickling’ process. Lactic acid is produced when the sugars in the forage plants are fermented by bacteria in a sealed container (‘silo’) with no air. Forage conserved this way is known as ‘ensiled forage’ or ‘silage’ and will keep for up to three years without deteriorating. Silage is very palatable to livestock and can be fed at any time.

Why silage not hay?

Forages can be made into hay to conserve the nutrients, especially protein, before they decline in the plant. However it is often too wet to dry the successfully and special machinery, has to be used to assist the forage to dry quickly. Forage crops such as maize, are too thick-stemmed to  dry successfully as hay.

Silage is considered the better way to conserve forage crops. A forage crop can be cut early and only has to have 30% dry matter to be ensiled successfully. There is no need to dry out the plant material any more than that, so wet weather is not such a constraint as it is with making hay.

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Silage making is long practiced by the larger agricultural sector, but the production method relies on heavy equipment and large production, in order to dig or build storage pits and to compress the green mass, putting it beyond the reach of smallholder farmers.


  • Stabile composition of the feed (silage) for a longer period (up to 5 years);
  • Plants can be harvested at optimal phase of development and are efficiently used by live- stock.
  • Reduction of nutrient loses which in standard hay production may amount to 30% of the dry matter (in silage is usually below 10%);
  • More economical use of plants with high yield of green mass;
  • Better use of the land with 2-3 crops annually;
  • Silage is produced in both cold and cloudy weather;


  • Silage is not interesting for marketing as its value is difficult to be
  • It does not allow longer transportation;
  • The weight increases manipulation costs;
  • Has considerably lower vitamin D content compared to
  • The fermentation in silage reduces harmful nitrates accumulated in plants during droughts and in over-fertilized.
  • Allows by-products (from sugar beat proc- essing, maize straw, etc.) to be optimally used;
  • Requires 10 times less storage space compared to hay;
  • Maize silage has 30-50% higher nutritive value compared to maize grain and maize straw;
  • 2 kg of silage (70% moisture) has the equal nutritive value of 1 kg of

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