4 unwritten rules for great silage

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The silage we prepare this year will be a key ingredient for next year’s feeding programs. This means that a hiccup in silage preparation can lead to a year of poor forage quality, while a year of exceptional weather and silage management can offer a year of quality feed and optimal herd health. What happens now has long-range consequences, whether good or bad.  
 
Farmers deal with many factors on a daily basis that are out of their control, with silage being one of them. Understanding what aspects of growing, chopping and ensilaging forages we can control can make all the difference between a year of mitigating forage issues and battling marginal milk production and a year of optimum herd health and prosperity.  
 
Over my years of experience in silage management, I have developed four practical and proven tips for making great silage.
 

1. Start with quality

 
This means you need to make the proper seed selections from the very start! The following factors are important when selecting seeds, so be sure to consult with your seed salesman before you make a decision:
  • Yield potential
  • Digestibility
  • Grain content
 

2. Proper moisture and maturity

 
Harvesting your crops at the proper moisture and maturity optimizes the benefit for the animals. For corn silage, the proper moisture should be approximately 65–68 percent.
 
What can happen to my silage if I chop when the moisture content is too high?
What can happen to my silage if I chop when the moisture content is too low?
  • Dry matter losses
  • Protein degradation
  • High butyric acid concentrations
  • Reduced palatability 
  • Reduced packing potential
  • Reduced density, which can lead to increased spoilage, increased mold growth and mycotoxins
 
It is important to remember that chop height is also important. For corn silage, the normal chop length should be 6 inches.
 
You can increase the quality and digestibility of the corn silage by increasing the chop length to 12–16 inches, but it is important to remember that we lose between 7–15 percent of our yield by chopping at that height.
 

3. Storage and filling of the harvest

 
With the popularity of high-horsepower, self-propelled choppers and custom operators, we can get a lot done in a very short amount of time when filling our silage piles, but being able to ensure that we get good packing and preservation of our forages is important. If you are using one of these machines, you may need to increase the quantity of tractors or weight used after placing the silage on the pile. Remember: When a tractor is compressing a pile, it can only efficiently compress up to six inches underneath the tractor tire, so layers need to be added in increments of six inches or less.
 
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A lot of times when I am on the farm, I hear, “When the silage starts coming in really fast, we just let it all come in and spend a few hours at the end packing it down with the tractor,” and that is not something I want to hear. If you aren’t spending the time during the gradual filling of the silage pile and instead wait until the end to pack it down with the tractor, you are significantly decreasing the quality of the silage on the top and wasting time.
 

4. Be patient!

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After harvest and when storing your feed, be patient as to when you are going to feed that silage. I understand there are times when we need to feed before we would like to on our forages, but we would like to try to keep the silage covered for at least four to six weeks before we open the pile or bunker to ensure that fermentation is completed and we have stable feed to provide to our herd. If it works for your operation, I would strongly suggest you allow three to four months prior to opening silage piles or bunkers to ensure you have quality feed for your animals. 
 

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