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Nutritive value and fermentation characteristics of alfalfa-mixed grass forage wrapped with minimal stretch film layers and stored for different lengths of time

W.K. Coblentz, R.K. Ogden, M.S. Akins, E.A. Chow
Journal of dairy science 2017 v.100 no.7 pp. 5293-5304
Medicago sativa, acetic acid, alfalfa, anaerobic conditions, carbohydrates, crude protein, detection limit, energy costs, fermentation, fermented foods, forage grasses, lactic acid, nutritive value, pH, plastics, silage, storage time, yeasts
A key aspect of managing baled silages is to quickly achieve and then rigorously maintain anaerobic conditions within the silage mass. The concept of inserting an O2-limiting barrier (OB) into plastic commercial silage wraps has been evaluated previously, yielding mixed or inconclusive results. Our objective for this study was to maximize the challenge to a commercial polyethylene bale wrap, or the identical wrap containing an OB, by using minimal plastic (4 layers), and then extending storage periods as long as 357 d. Forty-eight 1.2 × 1.2-m large-round bales of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) and mixed grass forage (66.3 ± 8.66% alfalfa; DM basis) were made at 2 moisture concentrations [47.5 (ideal) or 36.1% (dry)], wrapped with 4 layers of plastic containing an OB or no OB, and then stored for 99, 243, or 357 d. After storage, yeast counts within the 0.15-m deep surface layer were not affected by treatment (mean = 5.85 log10 cfu/g); mold counts could not be analyzed statistically because 26 bales were nondetectable at a 3.00 log10 cfu/g detection limit, but means among detectable counts were numerically similar for OB (4.74 log10 cfu/g) and no OB (4.77 log10 cfu/g). Fermentation characteristics were most affected by initial bale moisture, resulting in a more acidic final pH for ideal compared with dry bales (5.52 vs. 6.00). This was facilitated by greater concentrations of total fermentation acids (3.80 vs. 1.45% of dry matter), lactic acid (2.24 vs. 0.71% of dry matter), and acetic acid (1.07 vs. 0.64% of dry matter) within ideal compared with dry silages. Plastic wrap type had no effect on final concentrations of any fermentation product. During fermentation and storage, we noted greater change in concentrations of fiber components and whole-plant ash within the 0.15-m deep surface layer than in the bale core, and these changes always differed statistically from 0 (no change) based on pre-ensiled baseline concentrations. Overall, concentrations of water-soluble carbohydrates were reduced (mean = 2.3 percentage units) during fermentation and storage, which resulted (indirectly) in increased concentrations of fiber components and crude protein, as well as an overall energy cost of 2.2 percentage units of total digestible nutrient. It remains unclear under what conditions an OB plastic wrap will consistently benefit the fermentation and preservation of baled silages.