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Poster 1.1: The place of silage in ruminant production in the humid tropics - C.C. Wong

C.C. Wong

Livestock Research Centre
Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI)
P.O. Box 12301,

GPO, 50774 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

E-mail: [email protected]


In many developing countries of the humid tropical region of Southeast Asia, ruminant livestock production is mainly carried out by smallholders, who are largely dependent on natural forages for their feed resources. Natural forages grow freely along the roads and on idle agricultural land. In Malaysia, as in many humid tropical countries, green forages are plentiful for most of the year. However, at times, such as during a drought, livestock farmers will experience a shortage of forages and feeding of ruminant livestock will become a problem. Fodder conservation is promoted with the main objective of ensuring feed availability during periods of feed limitation (Mohd Najib et al., 1993).


For subsistence farmers, with a few animals, harvesting of livestock feed from roadsides and unused agricultural land is becoming less common. The economic boom of the 1980s and early 1990s changed the dairy livestock perspective of Southeast Asian farmers. As they become more progressive, the need for feed security in their ventures must be ascertained, and as they become more affluent, social activities increase in the community (Hassan Wahab and Devendra, 1982).

The farmers lack time for cutting forage, especially during the main crop-planting period and harvesting season, and especially during major festive and religious events. In addition, rainfall in recent years has been less reliable. Production of DM can be reduced tremendously during prolonged droughts, whilst excessive rainfall causes flooding that can affect production, harvesting and transportation. As nations become more developed, the accessibility of animals to roadside pastures becomes limited for reasons of safety to motorists. Nowadays, the super highways are out-of-bounds to animals.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the rising population has put increased pressure on agricultural land use in this part of the world. There is increasing illicit use of gazetted grazing reserves for intensive crop production. This has resulted in reduced availability of free feed resources from common grazing lands. Hence, forage conservation is needed during periods of high forage productivity. Silage making of forages that are plentiful during the wet season is one of the answers to feed shortages in other parts of the year.


The silage concept is more relevant to temperate regions - with their distinct seasons - than to the evergreen tropics. Nevertheless, over time, in Malaysia silage production has become more relevant to fulfil the forage needs of smallholder dairy farmers. Silage making is less dependent on weather conditions than is haymaking.

The reasons for the major interest in silage conservation in the tropics are many. As the countries of the tropics become more developed the aspirations of the farmers also become more sophisticated. No longer are they content with labour-intensive and mundane chores like cutting grasses every day for ruminants, irrespective of the climatic conditions. Many of them are looking for alternatives where cheap animal feed can be obtained, stored and utilized at their convenience. Silage making offers one solution.

In addition, the progressive farmers are keeping more animals and are aware of the need for nutritious feed for their animals. As livestock husbandry becomes more a financial investment than a form of social security, farmers want an assurance of readily available good quality feed for their animals. Silage making offers one option to secure feeds during seasons of high production for conservation and storage, for later use in periods of relative shortage. The silage can be kept for months or even years. Silage can be used at any time as and when required, especially during periods of drought (Koon, 1993).


Whole-maize silage has been a basic fodder for cattle in North America, and - to a lesser extent - in Europe. Maize has a high rate of conversion of radiant energy into plant matter. The high starch content of the grain makes the energy content of maize higher than that of hay or forage sorghum and thus is good material for silage production (Mooi, 1991). In contrast, many available tropical forages and agricultural by-products are generally low in nutritive quality. Silage can be made from these, but cannot sustain high animal productivity because of the low digestible energy content. New methods of silage making may be needed. In Malaysia, the oil palm plantations produce an abundance of pruned fronds every week, which can be exploited as animal feeds. Although the nutritive quality of palm fronds is low, there is a need to develop proper ensiling processes to upgrade the frond silage quality without much nutrient loss. A new approach to silage production from tropical forages is an area that needs to be further explored.


Hassan Wahab, & Devendra, C. 1982. An assessment of feed resources, feeding systems and problems concerning smallholder dairy cattle production in the milk collection centre, Jasin, Malacca. MARDI Report, No. 77. 45 p.

Koon, L.L. 1993. Production of Silawrap silage from fodder grass species for dry season feeding. p. 99-101, in: Strategies for suitable forage-based livestock production in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of the Third Meeting of the Regional Working Group on Grazing and Feed Resources of Southeast Asia. 31 January - 6 February 1993, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

Mohd Najib, M.A., Aminah, A., & Idris, A.B. 1993. Forage conservation for livestock smallholders in Malaysia. p. 103-109, in: Strategies for suitable forage-based livestock production in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of the Third Meeting of the Regional Working Group on Grazing and Feed Resources of Southeast Asia. 31 January - 6 February 1993, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

Mooi, K.C. 1991. Varietal and density effects on vegetable corn and forage production. MARDI Research Journal, 19: 217-223.

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