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0706 PD: Enzymes in silage

Mike Spandern Published on 07 August 2006

Some silage additives include enzymes. What are they and what do they do?

The use of enzymes is well-established in a broad range of industries. The food and beverage industries have been using enzymes for thousands of years in some processes, such as the production of sauerkraut or fermented soy products or for the production of alcoholic beverages. Enzymes are produced by bacteria and fungi or during the germination of seedlings and grains. Making malt from barley basically means to provide a complete natural enzyme package for the brewer, enabling him to convert sugars into alcohol.

Enzymes basically are little protein particles that show the capability of breaking down larger molecular structures (like carbohydrates) into smaller fractions. By doing this, they are very specific. Like a key that fits into a specific lock, enzymes are designed (by nature) to fulfill a specific task. Their name is made up of the structure they work on, plus the ending “-ase.” For example, hemicellulase breaks down hemicellulose (fiber), a protease breaks proteins and an amylase breaks amylose (or starch).

Since the early 1980s, the feed industry has used enzymes as feed additives to enhance the digestibility of certain feedstuffs and increase feed conversion, especially for monogastric diets. Over the past few years, enzymes have now also found their way into modern silage additives. But why?

The purpose of silage production is to preserve as many nutrients as possible and to maintain the quality of the harvested roughage. This is mainly achieved through the exclusion of air and the achievement of a fast pH drop, quickly stopping microbial deterioration or the growth of molds. Traditional silage additives were made of a combination of acids or acid-producing bacteria. These bacteria live on available sugars and stop their activity once their nutrients are chewed up.

However, sometimes this result is not obtained. The outcome can be a situation that now harmful bacteria can take advantage of or a silage in which pH value may not have dropped as far as it should. Therefore, the idea came up of feeding the beneficial bacteria with sugars; for example, through the addition of molasses. At first glance, this looked like a good idea, but the problems observed were an uncontrolled growth of unwanted bacteria and a fast growth of molds after the opening of the silage pit. Modern silage producers, therefore, looked for a more controlled form of feeding the acid-producing bacteria – and found an answer in the food and alcohol industry.

The addition of defined enzyme combinations with lactic acid-producing bacteria at inoculation allows a controlled, continuous release of available sugars for the bacteria. The beneficial bacteria always find an ideal feedstock and are never overfed or starved to death. Like spoon-feeding a baby, the enzymes provide just as much food to the bacteria as they can digest.

The advantages are to control the need of the cultured bacteria and not leave any feedstuffs for harmful bacteria or the growth of molds. The most valuable result to the farmer is that fewer nutrients in the silage are minimized.

When choosing biological silage inoculants, the farmer should therefore ask the salesperson or the consultant:

1) Which combination of bacteria is in the product?
2) What do they do?
3) How are they fed?

When clean, high-quality roughage is harvested and the silage pit is well-managed, modern silage additives, made of a combination of lactic acid-producing bacteria and enzymes, can eventually save nutrients and, of course, money.  PD

Mike Spandern, Alltech Representative

See more articles like this at www.progressivedairy.com

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