September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Haylage is not like wine

By Jim Linn- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Wines are always best after they have aged for a couple of years. The fermentation of wine is complete within a few months, but the flavor and quality of the wine improves with the right aging conditions. Whether the grapes are of excellent or marginal quality for making good wine, aging almost always improves the quality and flavor of the wine. Haylage, on the other hand, never gets better with aging. The best we can hope for is to retain the quality of the haylage at harvest during fermentation and storage. When marginal to low quality haylage is harvested and put into the silo, generally worse quality comes out. We have, unfortunately, reconfirmed this principle recently on a few dairy farms.
The nutrient content of the haylage coming out of the silo will be very close to the nutrient content of the crop going in. Fermentation and storage have a relatively small effect on protein, fiber and mineral content of the alfalfa or grass forage crop. Classification of haylage as high or low quality based on nutrient content is solely determined by the maturity of the crop at harvest time. Fermentation of the crop can greatly affect our opinion of whether the haylage is good or bad, but the nutrient content remains similar between what went in and what came out of the silo regardless of what type of fermentation the crop is subject to.
The type of fermentation a haylage will undergo is primarily determined by the moisture (or dry matter) of the haylage going into the silo. A haylage with less than 45 percent moisture will have a minimum fermentation and if too low in moisture and exposed to oxygen, it can burn up. This is relatively uncommon these days with more bunker and silo bags being used than old stave silos, but the potential still exists. Haylage should not be put up with moisture content under 45 percent. Moisture between 50 and 60 percent is ideal for fermentation and will result in the best preserved haylage when other good ensiling management practices are followed. Haylages above 65 percent moisture can undergo an undesirable fermentation producing butyric acid (above one percent of the dry matter) and other anti-nutritional compounds. This type of haylage has a green slimy appearance and is characterized as "they stink".
A few dairy farms have recently encountered the wet stinky haylage. The stink is from the butyric acid, amines (putrescine and cadavarine) produced from rotting and decaying organic matter, and ammonia. Good haylage has a sweet tobacco odor and is preserved through a high concentration of lactic acid and a very low concentration of butyric acid (less than 0.5 percent of the dry matter). Wet haylages favor the growth of clostridia bacteria over lactic acid bacteria. Although lactic acid producing bacteria are present, the clostridia bacteria ferment lactic acid to butyric and other acids that are weaker than lactic acid allowing the pH of the haylage to increase. Clostridia also ferment protein producing amines and ammonia.
Clostridial haylages don't just small bad. They can decrease milk production, increase ketosis in transition cows and are linked to hemorrhagic bowel or bloody gut syndrome. The decrease in milk production is caused by the amines and other toxin compounds produced during the degradation of protein in wet silages. Butyric acid by itself may not decrease dry matter intake or milk production. However, butyric acid has been shown to increase ketosis problems in transition cows and at times even lactating cows. Because amines are difficult and expensive to analyze for, butyric acid is the analysis used as the indicator of poorly fermented forages.
The exact cause of hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS) is not known, but nutritional factors most closely related to HBS appear to be feeding excess carbohydrates (starch) and wet, clostridial fermented haylage. Both clostridia organisms and the mold Aspergillus fumigatus are found in the intestinal tract of animals dying from HBS. While a high starch diet was not being fed on one farm visited this month, the wet stinky haylage was and a few animals were lost to HBS. There are no feed additives or feed antidotes to make the bad haylage good, but where HBS is occurring, the feed additive Omni-Gen AF which ties up Aspergillus fumigatus combined with a mannan oligosaccharides and yeast cell wall can help reduce toxin loads.
What can you do about high butyric acid haylages? Not much. Ideally they shouldn't be fed, but hauled out to the field and considered fertilizer. However, this isn't an option on most farms. Forage supplies are tight and feed costs are already high so feeding some of the high butyric acid haylage has to occur if at all possible. Also, it is most common to find the poorly fermented haylage in layers or pockets in silos amongst good haylage making it difficult to separate out and discard. The safest approach is to minimize the amounts of the poorly fermented haylage to any group of animals and avoid feeding the haylage all together to animals with a high risk of developing health problems (e.g. close-up, recently fresh and high dry matter intake cows). Before feeding, the haylage should be removed from the silo and aired out as long as possible. Spreading the haylage out in a thin layer and allowing air to penetrate helps diffuse the butyric acid and amines. The higher the butyric acid content, the longer the time period the haylage should air out.
The effects of high butyric acid, clostridia fermented haylages can occur from only a few layers of poorly fermented haylage in the silo. The whole silo, bag or pile of haylage doesn't have to be bad to cause problems. One field or even a few loads of wet haylage going into the silo can be enough to cause problems coming out. The best way to prevent clostridial, butyric acid haylage is to chop and ensile forages at the correct moisture or dry matter content. Haylages should be between 60 percent and 45 percent moisture. Also, minimize soil contamination as this is the inoculation source for both clostridia and aspergillus organisms. High butyric acid haylages almost always have a high ash (greater than 12 percent of the dry matter). Bad haylage going into the silo doesn't get any better during storage and most likely will be worse coming out. Aging may improve wine made from marginal grapes, but it doesn't work for haylage.
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