August is the time to start planning and making arrangements for silage harvest. It’s also a good time to bring the team together and make a checklist of what needs to be done to ensure nothing gets missed, said Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator at The Ohio State University.
- Speak to harvesting team or custom harvester
- Check the chopper to ensure it's in excellent working condition
- Line up equipment, including hauling trucks or wagons and packing tractors
- Make sure there are enough properly trained people on-hand to use equipment
- Have pile covering materials ready for use
“With corn silage harvest, you've got one shot to get it right and you’ll be using that silage for about a year, maybe longer,” he said. “It’s so important to get dry matter content right because if you don't, you're going to really struggle.”
Ideally, target 35% dry matter (DM) for all your silage, but the range is 32% to 38% DM. There are some issues if silage is harvested too wet or dry, but if you must err, Lewandowski recommends harvesting wetter rather than running too dry.
“Typically, corn silage dries down about ½ percentage point of moisture each day. Last year, we ran into a warm streak and were at ¾ percentage point a day, so it went from ‘not quite ready’ to ‘should have harvested yesterday’ very quickly,” he said. “So, you’ve got to monitor daily.”
Length of Cut
Length of cut is critical to fiber digestibility. While fine, small pieces make for easy packing and exclusion of oxygen, they don’t make effective fibers in the ration or the rumen.
“If you’re not using a kernel processor, the theoretical length of cut should be set at ¼ inch to ½ inch,” he explained. “But if you are using a kernel processor, it helps to increase the availability of starch, so we cut a little bit longer at ¾ inch. Those who are shredding the whole plant length-wise can cut bigger pieces - up to 1 inch.”
There are two types of inoculants to consider:
- Lactic acid - if in past years you've struggled to get a good fermentation, use a lactic acid bacteria at the point of chopping. It helps produce more acetic acid and drops the pH.
- Lactobacillus buchneri - If you've had problems in the past with feed out and spoilage, then consider adding a L. buchneri inoculant. It helps to increase the stability of silage. It also boosts your acetic acid, which works on spoilage organisms to like yeast and mold, especially as you open the face up.
“There are a lot of good inoculants on the market. Do your research,” he advised. “Also, make sure you use enough and be cognizant that these are living organisms. Don't use chlorinated water and watch the water temperature.”
“Oxygen and air are the enemy of silage,” he said. “Packing helps us to exclude it, but a lot of producers have a hard time measuring it. The goal is to have a density 42 to 45 pounds per ft3 of silage as its delivered to the bunker silo. On a DM basis, that's a density of 14 to 16 pounds per ft3.”
To get there requires having enough weight to pack and packing in a timely manner. A few tips:
- For every ton of silage, you need 800 pounds of weight for packing. If delivering silage at 50 tons per hour, multiply that times 800, and it tells you 40,000 pounds of packing or 20 tons of tractors (or packing equipment) are needed for packing
- Never put down more than a 6-inch to 8-inch layer
- Pack that well
- Apply another 6-inch to 8-inch layer
The goal is to harvest quickly. Once you're done, it’s critical to cover the silo as soon as possible to keep oxygen out and protect it from the elements.
“In recent years, research on a two-step covering product where they have the oxygen barrier sealing and a regular piece of plastic over the top has shown to help with fermenting high-quality silage,” Lewandowski said. “Research has shown that putting plastic on the inside wall of your bunker silo can help to increase the quality of that silage as well.”
Once covered, seal it either using bags with weights or cut tires that are touching one another. If you're bagging silage, make sure it's packed tightly but consider leaving the end open for a day to release some of the air and gas, then seal it up tight, he noted.
- Big equipment visibility is often very limited, so always keep children away from the area.
- Plan a pre-harvest meeting with silage crew and farm employees, especially those not directly involved in the silage process to share what's going to be happening to minimize their risk.
- Don’t pack silage above walls.
Headline image courtesy of Rory Lewandowski
Dairy Herd Management