NEW RESEARCH: Identifying best management practices for high quality silage production

Weather volatility and climate change have made cropping and harvest even more challenging for dairy farmers, potentially impacting the quality and costs of livestock feed for silage. With feed costs among the highest expenses on a dairy farm, new research under the Dairy Research Cluster 3 aims to help farmers improve their production practices to make high-quality silage at lower costs with tailored management plans for different regions. This Cluster project addresses a key strategic priority in DFC’s National Dairy Research Strategy targeting forage breeding and management for improved yield, resistance, conservation, quality and digestibility.

Drs. Nancy McLean (Dalhousie University) and Linda Jewell (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) – St. John’s, Newfoundland) are leading the research project with a team of researchers across Canada. It is one of the first pan-Canadian projects collecting data from all aspects of silage production and management with the objective of providing dairy farmers with practical data to help them develop targeted management plans.

“Given the range of climatic conditions in each province over a growing season, we’re evaluating silage management plans specific to the types of silage produced in different regions to determine which ones work best to reduce costs, benefit the environment and improve cow health and longevity,” said Nancy McLean. 

The team is collecting detailed information on silage production through a survey with a representative sample of 400 farms in different regions. An economic component is included in the questionnaire to measure the costs of silage production. They are testing samples used in rations to measure the quality of the silage from over 200 farms. Data from nutrient and manure management plans will also be collected and DNA extracted from the silage samples to identify fungal contaminants in silage. 

“Farmers need high quality silage with beneficial components for their feed rations to maintain dairy cattle health and milk production. Silage quality is affected by many factors like species, percentage of legumes included, soil fertility, stage of harvest, dry matter, type of silo and silo management. As part of the quality assessment, we are also extracting and testing silage samples at feed-out to detect and identify any fungal contaminants and determine whether mycotoxin-associated species are present in spoiled silage. This too is an important part of quality management,” said Linda Jewell.

Project Overview

  • Principal Investigators: Nancy McLean, Dalhousie University and Linda Jewell of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (St-John’s, Newfoundland).
  • Co-Investigators: Kees Plaizier, Kim Ominski, Emma McGeough, Francis Zvomuya (University of Manitoba), Carole Lafrenière (Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue), Shabtai Bittman (AAFC – Agassiz), Emmanuel Yiridoe (Dalhousie University), David Dykstra (New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries), Fred Waddy (MILK 2020) 
  • Duration: 2018-2022 
  • Total budget: $799,419 

Download a summary of the project here: DairyResearch.ca.

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