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Spying on silage inoculants.

Spying on Silage Inoculants

Some people put up pickles or sauerkraut in glass jars.

Agricultural engineer Richard E. Muck does his preserving in mini-silos --in a laboratory.

These mini-silos are used to check the effectiveness of bacterial inoculants that farmers use to improve silage quality and animal performance.

"In a large farm silo, it's difficult to see what's happening to silage," says Muck, who works for ARS at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin. But the mini-silos, which are made of clear plastic tubes, provide a quick look at what's going on.

"Although we don't make inoculants, our research can help farmers with day-to-day decisions about using them and what to expect," says Muck.

Most inoculants hasten and improve silage fermentation, but this doesn't necessarily result in the cows eating more dry matter and producing more milk. So farmers need information on the conditions under which the inoculants can be the most cost-effective to their operation, says Muck.

At the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, director Larry D. Satter fed test groups of cows alfalfa silage treated with bacterial inoculants, evaluated their performances, and compared results to data from cows fed untreated silage.

"For cows to eat more or to produce more milk, the inoculant has to boost the lactic acid bacteria on the crop at the time of ensiling by 10 times," says Satter.

In studies where the amount of lactic acid bacteria was increased this much or more by the inoculant, he found a 2.5 percent increase in milk production. This represents a return of $2.50 for every dollar invested in the inoculant, says Satter.

If the inoculants are used indiscriminately, the average increase in milk production is only 1.2 percent, meaning a return of about $1.20 for every dollar invested.

To get a higher rate of return on inoculant use, farmers need a way to predict natural populations of lactic acid bacteria on a crop.

Factors influencing the natural lactic acid bacteria on a crop are wilting time, temperature, and moisture content of the alfalfa at ensiling.

After 5 years of survey work and testing in Wisconsin, Muck has produced mathematical equations and graphs that farmers can use in predicting natural populations of lactic acid bacteria. This information was distributed earlier this year to Wisconsin dairy farmers.

Muck has also experimented with a bacterial strain originally isolated by scientists in Great Britain. Although not yet commercially available, Streptococcus bovis is a natural bacterium found in a cow's rumen. "It looks promising as a supplement to bacteria used in commercial inoculants because it increases acidity of fermenting silage up to 50 percent faster than commercial inoculants now in use.

"We know the inoculants help animal performance, but we're still studying the specific ways they increase milk yield or feed intake. Getting the pH to drop more quickly helps preserve the protein in the crop, and that means a more nutritious meal for cows," says Muck.

He is further checking the effectiveness of the equations in other parts of the country. Wisconsin, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are the leading dairy states.

PHOTO : To evaluate experimental silage inoculants, agricultural engineer Richard Muck examines a mini-silo.
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Title Annotation:to improve milk production from cows
Author:Cooke, Linda
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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