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- the underestimated danger in dairy farms

Dairy cows

Clostridia are bacteria found in the soil and on dirty plant material. In agricultural operations they can also penetrate the milk. In dairies they inhibit cheese production since the metabolic gases of the bacteria affect the smell and taste of the cheese.

Furthermore, recent scientific studies have shown that the bacteria may even produce toxins. Cows eating silage contaminated with Clostridia run a risk. However, this silage, i.e. grass silage containing butyric acids and affected by butyric fermentation, is quite common in practice, for example when low-sugar grass is ensiled while it is still too wet. Pollution by earth and dead plant elements further increase the risk of butyric fermentation, by increasing the introduction of Clostridia into the silaged crop.

Effective pro-active management on dairy farms can interrupt the Clostridia propagation cycle and permanently lower its effects.

What causes a high Clostridia count in the silage?

Farmer melking a cow

There are various causes of a high Clostridia presence. The Clostridia circle on the farm starts with the bacteria or their spores in the earth. If the grass is cut too short, earth will pollute the silo. Especially in wet weather and with grass with low dry matter content, Clostridia will gain the upper hand over the desired lactic acid bacteria, leading to -undesired- butyric acid fermentation. The butyric acid bacteria (=Clostridia) secrete metabolic products, which may include toxins, in the cow's digestive tract. This poses a specifically high risk for sensitive high-performing cows whose feed ration contains a high share of grass and maize silage. This conclusion is hinted at by some recent research results. And as a matter of fact, the bacteria which causes botulism is also a member of the Clostridium genus.

Clostridia bacteria survive as spores in the digestive tracts of cows and end up on the field again through their dung. The infection has thus come full circle.

Even the slightest pollution in the milking parlour transferred onto the teat can contaminate the milk and lead to the dairy processing problems described above.

Which measures can farmers take?

Tractor on the field

Since Clostridia mainly find their way to cows through the grass silage, measures to improve feed hygiene will be effective. Firstly, the grassland must be supplied with sufficient nutrients. For example, extensive crops are usually low in nitrate, resulting in silaging problems. Fermentation converts nitrate into nitrite which inhibits Clostridia and their spores. As a result, low-nitrate crops are more susceptible to butyric fermentation than crops which have been provided with sufficient nutrients. In general, it may be questioned whether extensively farmed crops are actually suitable for generating high-quality grass silage.

When mowing grass you must avoid "shaving" it too short. A cutting height of 7 - 8 cm is always recommended, also in view of the energy concentration. Incorrectly adjusted harvesting equipment, such as cutting units which do not cut straight or pick-up units which scrape the soil must be corrected to minimise the introduction of earth and withered plant material. Levelling pastures in spring to level out mole heaps must be standard practice.

Highly effective against Clostridia: KOFASIL LIQUID and KOFASIL PLUS GRANULAR

Kofasil Product Range

KOFASIL LIQUID and KOFASIL PLUS GRANULAR have been the optimum silage additives for years, where preventing butyric fermentation of hard to ferment forage crop is concerned. Since these products contain nitrites they are excellently suited to being used for low-nitrate and low-sugar grass silages. In wet weather conditions, when the risk of butyric fermentation is specifically high, ensiling is even possible without prior wilting. The silage will de-acidify even faster then and fermentation losses will be slight. In this way, the fermentation process can be actively controlled.

Pure lactic acid products cannot achieve this effect, since although they enrich the forage with highly effective cultures, conditions of survival are in favour of butyric acids which will gain the upper hand, in spite of the addition of lactic acid bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria do not actively counteract the risk of butyric fermentation. In this respect, additionally enriching the silage with molasses has been found to have virtually no effect, since the molasses also benefits the silage ingredients which negatively affect fermentation.

DLG approval seal

DLG approval seal

The DLG approval seal 5 (preventing the propagation of clostridia) which has been awarded to both KOFASIL LIQUID and KOFASIL PLUS GRANULAR is testimony to their reliable Clostridia inhibition. With these products farmers have two powerful products to interrupt the Clostridium cycle.

Clostridia - an unfinished story!

Sensitive high-performing animals must be protected against Clostridia. The process of generating high-quality silage contains many options to permanently minimise the negative effects of Clostridia on farms. Although there is still a lot to be uncovered, the general picture that is forming is that the negative effects of a high Clostridia load on animal health are considerably worse than has always been assumed. It is up to you to do something about this.