There are numerous options for harvesting and ensiling forage. The best system for any operation is one that allows harvest at the optimum time; rapid fill of the silo, bunker or bag; packing the forage to exceed minimum targets; and easy feedout maintaining a clean and tidy surface with no loose silage piles. Balancing these factors can help achieve both yield and quality goals.
The first step is planning in advance to ensure there are no bottlenecks in the system. Equipment at each stage in the process should be matched the target harvest rate. If there is a mismatch, the overall process can be slowed down unnecessarily, resulting in less-than-ideal moisture levels and/or plant maturity or may expose the crop to adverse weather events. Identify any potential bottlenecks well before harvest and make sure any necessary adjustments are made.
Producers need to ensure that the crop is harvested at the right stage to meet the desired nutritional goals. Be aware also that chop length affects both ensiling characteristics and forage quality. A short chop facilitates packing, minimizing air infiltration into the silo, while a longer chop length increases effective fiber in the diet. Current recommendations are to harvest grass and alfalfa at a theoretical length-of-cut (TLC) of 3/8 to 1/2 inch and corn at a TLC of 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Corn harvested for silage at greater than 32% dry matter (DM) needs to be processed to maximize utilization by the animal.
Using a research-proven forage inoculant will drive an efficient ensiling fermentation and can also help prevent aerobic spoilage. Inoculants that contain Lactobacillus buchneri 40788 at an effective dose can help address stability challenges at feedout. In fact, the high dose rate L. buchneri 40788 is the only microbial active reviewed by the FDA and allowed to claim efficacy in preventing the growth of yeasts (the main cause of silage heating and aerobic instability) and molds in silages and HMC.
Achieving target packing densities is vital and requires adequate packing weight, time and technique. Silo fill rates are often limited by harvester power and capacity or the transport system — not necessarily the storage structure itself. Bunkers can be filled more quickly than tower silos and are suited to a large self-propelled harvester.
Finally, the silo needs to be sealed as soon as possible after filling. All exposed surfaces need to be covered and sealed completely and effectively. Well-packed silage that has been treated with a proven inoculant and is fully covered and sealed will ensure a good fermentation that will minimize nutrient and DM losses, maximize high quality, increase stable feed available at feedout and increase production from your forage base.