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Equipment Hub: Making the most out of your silage

Matt Jaynes for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 September 2020
Silage

Forage crops are an essential part of every successful dairy farm. Not only are they critical to the cattle’s health, but the forage fed to livestock can also affect an operation’s bottom line.

The milk dairy cows produce is dependent on the nutrients the cow receives, which makes forage quality a key factor of the cow’s diet.

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Silage has become a staple forage for dairy cattle over the years. Because natural pasture grass is dependent on the climate, this method of preservation is an efficient way for cows and sheep to enjoy high-quality silage at a later date when the pasture is dry. The fermentation process converts grass sugars to acids, and the acids preserve the nutritional value of the silage. Silage contributes more than 50% of the nutrients for dairy cattle production.

High-quality corn silage has many benefits, including providing energy, starch and fiber for cattle with minimal nutritional losses. With less field loss involved, silage has more nutrients preserved per acre. Also, it is less affected by poor weather conditions because it does not dry out in the field. Silage won’t break the bank either because producers can prepare their own, making it a cost-effective means to keep cattle fed and healthy.

A seasoned producer knows that achieving a quality of corn silage that will benefit dairy cows and increase milk production requires prioritizing several best practices. These best practices include monitoring moisture levels, packing and sealing silage in a timely manner and considering the chop size.

Monitor moisture levels

Corn silage is a high-moisture crop at 55% to 72% water. It is important silage is not harvested too wet or too dry. Producers must keep in mind that if silage is too wet, there is a risk of butyric acid forming and losing nutrients. If the silage is too dry, it will not ferment or pack well. The timing and method of harvest are often the biggest contributors to the moisture content of silage. To check maturity, producers should keep track of the moisture or dry matter (DM). The ideal range is 62% to 68% moisture.

Sampling silage can be done several ways, including spot-checking and pulling random stalks in a field to check moisture. Or if the crop is close to time of harvest, producers can use a forage harvester with a moisture sensor. If this method is used, it’s best to reset the counter to get the average moisture of the plot you harvest rather than reading the instant number on the screen.

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Timely pack and seal

Producers should have the right equipment ready for a smooth packing process. Fill the silo or pit in a timely manner while ensuring corn silage is packed to the correct density. Tightly packed silage decreases the size of oxygen pockets and contains fewer yeasts and molds. Researchers recommend a minimum packing density of 14 pounds of DM per cubic foot, while many producers strive for 16 to 18 pounds per cubic foot. If too much air is trapped in the pit, fermentation and nutrient levels will be reduced. Lower bunk density will also lead to more DM loss. Then seal the silo properly to keep air out.

Consider chop size

Recent studies have shown that chop size and processing can affect the nutritional value of the silage. The Penn State Particle Separator (PSPS), also known as the Penn State Shaker Box, has become a key tool for quantitatively determining the particle size of forages and total mixed rations (TMR). To maintain chopping consistency, machines should be checked every day and, if you have multiple machines, producers will need to ensure they are set to the same ratios.

In order to achieve a good fermentation process, silage needs to be chopped consistently enough to allow for quick packing. However, the chop length needs to be long enough to promote cud chewing. We recommend the Shredlage technique. Proven by university studies, independent labs and leading dairies, Shredlage is a patented conditioning process for the production of corn silage. It involves chopping the plants to greater lengths than usual, ranging from 21 to 30 millimeters, and then processing the chopped material with a special Shredlage processor.

Trials conducted by the University of Wisconsin in 2012 show that Shredlage drastically increases the physical effectiveness of corn silage in the rumen while also improving the availability of the starch contained in all parts of the plant. As a result, the daily milk yield in the herds studied increased by up to 2.4 pounds per cow. Also, the rumen-friendly structure of the silage improved herd health.

A higher milk yield and improved livestock health are not the only benefits Shredlage has to offer dairy producers. As the availability of starch is optimized, it is possible to reduce the quantity of feed concentrate used while obtaining a higher overall milk yield. It is also possible to limit or even eliminate the use of fiber supplements such as straw, thereby providing further cost savings.

The quality of corn silage can make a significant difference in cattle performance and health. Prioritizing moisture levels, density, air content and chop size can all work together to meet the energy, protein and fiber nutrition goals cattle require for a healthy dairy system. After all, high-quality feed means high-quality milk.  end mark

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PHOTO: Silage contributes more than 50% of the nutrients for a cow’s production. The quality is facilitated with the right moisture levels, processing, packing and sealing. Photo courtesy of CLAAS.

Matt Jaynes
  • Matt Jaynes

  • Product Manager
  • CLAAS

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