Bagged silage can be a cost-effective storage system and offer flexibility for operations that are expanding or storing differing forage types. However, dry matter (DM) losses can occur if bags aren’t packed correctly and monitored consistently. DM losses can be as low as 4% in good environments or as high as 20% if storage conditions are poor.
To get quality silage, start preparing before the crop is cut. Then, enter the field with the right plan. Equipment should be checked to ensure blades are sharp and packing teeth are sound. Be sure to use a tunnel extension to increase bagging density.
Next, be sure the crop is cut at the correct maturity. It’s also important to plan for bagging upfront. Don’t cut to bale hay and then change to bagging later.
When harvesting for bagging silage, be sure to:
- Set up the bagger in a well-drained area to avoid fighting with the mud
- Maintain a good, workable space around/between the bag(s) to avoid damage
- Ensile at proper moisture levels for haylage, corn silage and high-moisture corn (HMC)
- Maintain a good chop length – a shorter cut will pack better in the bag, but remember that the bagger will reduce the chop length
- Use a research-proven inoculant
- Use a heavy bag and follow bag stretching instructions – overstretching the bag can compromise the structure and allow oxygen to permeate
After harvest, vent the bag for three days and watch for silo gases. If the bag inflates, open the vent during the daytime only. Closing the bag at night will help prevent pulling additional oxygen into the bag, which can occur during daily temperature changes.
Also, check the bag weekly for holes. If any are found, wipe the area with rubbing alcohol and seal with bagger tape. Mowing weeds within a 3′ perimeter can discourage rodents from creating holes in the first place.
It will take four to six weeks for good fermentation. Avoid feeding the silage too early. Cattle perform best when fed uniform, quality silage. Plus, the longer the bag is sealed, the more stable the feed will be when opened.