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Publication #AN146

Wilting Bermudagrass Improves Forage Silage Quality and Cattle Performance1

Matt Hersom and William E. Kunkle2

Bermudagrass has low concentrations of sugars that are fermented to lactic and other acids during ensiling. Wilting has been shown to improve the fermentation and the feeding value of forages when concentrations of sugar are low. The effects of wilting on bermudagrass harvested as round bale silage were investigated in two trials. The round bale silage was compared to similar bermudagrass harvested as round baled hay.

Bermudagrass was harvested after 5 to 6 weeks of regrowth in 1988 and 6 to 7 weeks of regrowth in 1989. The treatments included baling immediately after cutting (unwilted), baling after 1 to 2 hours of wilt, baling after 2 to 4 hours of wilt or field curing and harvesting as hay. Forage was baled with a New Holland 848 baler in bales 4 feet wide and 4.5 feet in diameter. The high-moisture forage was wrapped with four layers of stretch-wrap plastic and stored under trees. Hay was stored in a barn. After 4 to 8 months of storage, the forage was fed to heifers in round-bale feeders and wasted forage was removed and weighed. Individual bales were identified and weighed at harvest and at feeding. Each treatment was fed to two groups of 10 growing heifers averaging 550 pounds in 1988 and 520 pounds in 1989. Bermudagrass forage intake and heifer weight gains and height changes were determined in an 87-day feeding trial in 1988 and a 98-day feeding trial in 1989.

In two trials in which wilted bermudagrass was compared to unwilted forage, wilting 2 to 4 hours had the following effects:

  1. Forage moisture was decreased 20 percentage units from 71% to 51%.

  2. Bale weights were reduced by 100 pounds per bale from 1,450 to 1,350 pounds.

  3. Forage dry matter increased 200 pounds per bale from 420 to 620 pounds.

  4. Number of bales and plastic and wrapping costs were decreased by 30%.

  5. Storage losses were decreased 3.7 percentage units from 12.5% to 8.8% of the dry matter lost during storage.

  6. Feeding losses were increased 6.7 percentage units from 10.1% to 16.8% of the dry matter wasted at feeding. Molding of forage due to holes in the plastic contributed to wasted forage and the losses were higher in drier forage.

  7. Silage quality was improved and resulted in a 13% increase in intake from 1.67% to 1.89% of body weight, daily gains were increased 0.4 pounds from -0.15 to +0.25 pounds, and growth in height was increased 0.48 inches over 3 months from 0.43 to 0.91 inches growth in height.

Forage wilted to 50% to 60% moisture resulted in similar intakes and animal performance compared to forage harvested as hay, but storage and feeding losses were 9 percentage units higher for the silage compared to hay. Wilting of bermudagrass forage 2 to 4 hours is an imperative management control point to optimize forage quality and animal performance when utilizing round bale silage to conserve forage.

Tables

Table 1. 

Effect of wilting bermudagrass on forage characteristics, bale weight, feed and storage losses, and intake and performance of growing cattle.a

Item

Wilting time, hours

 

None

1–2

2–4

Hay

Forage moisture, %

       

1988

73.9

63.3

52.2

13.3

1989

69.1

60.8

54.3

25.5

Average

71.5

62.1

53.3

19.4

Forage dry matter, %

       

1988

26.1

36.7

47.8

86.7

1989

30.9

39.2

45.7

74.5

Average

28.5

37.9

46.8

80.6

Wet bale weight, lb

       

1988

1,362

1,405

1,273

622

1989

1,545

1,445

1,415

800

Average

1,454

1,425

1,344

711

Dry bale weight, lb

       

1988

357

515

608

536

1989

477

565

635

595

Average

417

540

622

566

Storage losses, % DM

       

1988

14.7

13.3

9.4

3.0

1989

10.2

9.7

8.1

2.9

Average

12.5

11.5

8.8

3.0

Feeding losses, % dry matter

       

1988

8.7

9.2

13.0

7.2

1989

11.5

16.2

20.5

17.7

Average

10.1

12.7

16.8

12.5

Dry matter intake, lb/day

       

1988

9.2

10.2

10.9

11.0

1989

8.0

8.9

9.5

8.7

Average

8.6

9.6

10.2

9.9

Dry matter intake, % body weight

       

1988

1.67

1.84

1.96

1.88

1989

1.66

1.78

1.81

1.65

Average

1.67

1.81

1.89

1.77

Daily gain, lb/head

       

1988

-0.07

0.15

0.35

0.53

1989

-0.22

-0.13

0.15

0.04

Average

-0.15

+0.01

+0.25

+0.29

Height increase, inches

       

1988 (87 days)

0.19

0.84

0.86

1.00

1989 (98 days)

0.66

0.97

0.95

1.12

Average

0.43

0.91

0.91

1.06

a Regrowth was 5–6 weeks in 1988 and 6-7 weeks in 1989.

Footnotes

1.

This document is AN146, one of a series of the Department of Animal Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2003. Revised September 2011. Reviewed October 2017. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Matt Hersom, associate professor, Department of Animal Sciences; and William E. Kunkle, professor (deceased), Department of Animal Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication do not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.