As fall approaches many farmers will prepare to chop silage to use as a feed in their livestock operations. There are several key factors affecting silage harvest and storage that will ensure the efficient fermentation and production of high quality feed. Taking time to correctly harvest and store corn silage will allow producers to maximize their feed value.
It is important to chop corn silage at the correct moisture content and stage of development. The corn plant should be from 65% to 70% moisture when chopped (moisture requirements vary depending on the type of silo or storage to be used) and the “milk line” should be one-third to two-thirds down the kernel. Corn silage that is harvested when it is too wet can result in loss of nutrients through seepage and ultimately poor quality feed. Corn silage that is harvested when it is too dry will not ferment correctly and can cause mold to develop.
In addition to plant moisture, particle size is another important factor that ensures proper fermentation and optimum feed quality. Particle size can vary depending on percent dry matter; however, in general it should fall within the range of half to the-quarters of an inch. Particles that are too large or silage that is not uniformly chopped can allow for more oxygen to be trapped within packed silage which can significant reduce the feed value of the silage.
The rate at which the silo is filled also contributes to feed quality. In general, silos should be filled as quickly as possible to allow for the best silage fermentation. By quickly filling a silo and making sure the silage is properly packed, producers will provide the environment for proper fermentation. Harvest equipment and procedures should be managed so that silos can be filled in one to three days. Research has shown that delays beyond three days can result in significant losses in feed value and dry matter.
While there are many factors that affect the quality of corn silage, taking care of details ahead of time will make all the difference. Growers should make sure equipment is properly adjusted and maintained to harvest corn silage efficiently at the right particle size. By closely monitoring hybrid development and quickly harvesting corn silage at the right moisture content, growers can ensure the best possible conditions for fermentation. Finally, because many aspects of silage harvest can be dangerous, make sure all safely shields are in place on equipment and sound safety precautions are taken throughout the silage harvesting process.