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BY GRACE JOHNSON, MISSOURI, AGE 17 SHUTTERSTOCK Making Silage Many farmers and ranchers feed silage to their cattle, but have you ever wondered how it is /PACKER JED made? Or maybe you’ve even helped make it, but aren’t quite sure how the process works. It all happens in a process called fermentation! First, when the silage matter is cut and chopped you have to pack it tightly to make sure that oxygen can’t get in. The packed forage continues to use up any available oxygen, and once it is all gone, and no more is getting in, it is in an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic means without oxygen. This stage should happen within a few hours, and this is when the fermentation really begins. Benefi cial lactobacillus bacteria are on the forage when it is cut, and they multiply rapidly until the forage is fermented. These special bacteria eat up the carbohydrates from the forage, and they release lactic acid. The lactic acid does most of the work by lowering the pH in the forage, which makes it more acidic. This is like pickling, and it keeps the silage from molding and overheating. After the pH is lowered to where no more carbohydrates can function, the fermentation is done. This process can take about a month. Now the silage can stay good for up to three years if it is not exposed to oxygen. Another way to make good silage is to use inoculants. These inoculants contain anaerobic bacteria, which are bacteria that thrive in an environment without oxygen. You can put inoculants into the forage while it is fermenting. This will produce even more lactic acid, which speeds the fermentation process up. Silage fermentation can be confusing to learn, but it’s a great way to store nutritious feed if done properly! SMEREKA / SHUTTERSTOCK What’s pH? It stands for p ower of H ydrogen and measures whether something is acidic or base (alkaline). An acid releases hydrogen ions into water and a base pulls hydrogen ions from water. This activity can be measured, giving us a pH number between 0 and 14. A pH of 7 is neutral and anything lower that that is more acidic, anything higher than that is more basic, or alkaline. When silage is done fermenting, it should have a pH of around 4 to 4.5, which is the same as dill pickles, and considered weakly acidic. Corn is a common forage used for making silage, but silage can also be made from other forages such as wheat, barley, oats, rye, alfalfa or sorghum. Covering the silage with plastic keeps out the oxygen and excess moisture. Make sure you use the best silo plastic available (with a high OTR – oxygen transmission rate). Exposure to oxygen causes yeasts and molds to start growing, which will make the silage heat up and rot. Once the silage is opened up to oxygen for feeding, it is important to manage the exposure and feed the exposed area within a few days. This silage pit has a well maintained face, which helps a lot! 4 I WORKING RANCH JUNIOR I SUMMER 2017


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