Expert provides tips on obtaining high-quality silage

Todd Whitney
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
For high-quality silage, inoculants alongside proper harvesting and storage can reduce the risk of spoilage and maintain its condition.

High quality silage starts with proper harvesting and storage, but management extends into the feeding phase. Adding inoculants might be one way to help maintain quality. However, inoculants do not replace other important silage decisions such as harvesting at the right moisture and solid bunker packing.

Inoculants are simply bacterial cultures that help reduce pH faster by converting sugars to acids which reduce molds, fungi and unwanted bacteria. Generally, inoculants are more beneficial for alfalfa silage than corn silage unless that crop is harvested on the dry side or immediately after a killing frost.

Since inoculants only work if the bacteria are alive, store them properly in a cool, dry place. Wet packages can be refrigerated until use. Do not use hot water or chlorinated water to make a liquid inoculate mix, since either can kill the bacteria. Liquid inoculant mixes are usually viable for 24 to 48 hours and need to be stored less than 95°F, so protect the inoculant from heat such as hot chopper engines.

For bunker storage, it is more efficient to apply the inoculant through the chopper in the field rather than trying to pour the inoculant on the top of a silage wagon, hoping that it gets mixed. The most effective alfalfa silage inoculants contain homolactic acid bacteria whereas the heterolactic acid bacteria — such as Lactobacillius buchner — are especially useful at reducing spoilage on the face of bunker silos if the face is too wide to keep fresh, or if producers take out several days’ worth of feed from the pile at one time. However, the bacterium is slow growing and needs 45 to 60 days of storage time before being effective.

The purpose of inoculants is not to fix a train wreck or improve a perfect silage year, but they can help when things aren’t ideal. Inoculants can be used as an insurance policy to reduce the risk of spoilage and maintain quality.