Feed accounts for the largest share of production costs on a farm. In light of this fact, it should come as no surprise that farmers are always looking for new ways to save on feed.
Lower feed costs should not sacrifice production, however. The best way to ensure that this does not happen is to include a more significant percentage of high-quality forage in rations.
Corn silage contains grain and forage. This allows for dense energy from kernels and rumen-stimulating fiber from husks, leaves, and stalks. High-quality corn silage begins with the correct hybrid selection, careful management in the field, and correct packing and covering. Specifically, quality corn silage comes down to five key elements:
Moisture content: To determine the proper time to harvest corn silage, the moisture content is critical. The ideal moisture content is 65, give or take a few percent. Hay with more than 70 percent moisture means bacteria can develop, which leads to higher dry matter and reduced palatability. Lower than 60 percent moisture means hay will be more difficult to pack and leads to more air in the material. This can result in low density as well as mold and yeast growth.
Cut length: Silage cut too coarse will lead to packing difficulty. Processed silage should be about three-fourths of an inch. Non-processed silage should be one-fourth to one-half of an inch.
Kernel processing: The outer layer of the kernels limits microbe access to the starch in a kernel. A forage lab can determine kernel processing scores. Scores from 50 to 70 are acceptable, but over 70 is ideal. Quick monitoring during harvest can be complex, but, in general, every cup of kernels should have less than one or two damaged kernels.
Packing: Tight packing coupled with total sealing creates an environment ideal for the bacteria responsible for fermentation. It is a good idea to calculate packing capacity before harvest. The target density is 15 pounds per dry matter per cubic foot or more.
Covering: Always cover silage with an oxygen barrier film and black and white plastic. This will minimize dry matter and nutrient losses. You also may want to consider lining bunkers with plastic. Extra weight on covered silage also is a good idea.
There will always be some elements, like the weather, out of the farmer’s control. Barring unforeseen circumstances, however, the practices listed above should have a significantly positive effect on silage quality.
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