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Lessons in silage management: Raygor Farms

Megan Pierce Published on 20 September 2013

Bob Sprunger of Raygor Farms crops 450 acres in northeastern Ohio with his son Scott and son-in-law Mark Ostarchvic.

This operation puts up more than 2,500 tons of corn silage each year. Corn silage is stored in bunkers and haylage is stored in upright silos.

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Fine-tuning its silage management program has been a focus of Raygor Farms for the past several years. “From start to finish, our goal is to do it right,” Sprunger says, although he does note that this year the weather has been challenging for the operation.

“Thankfully, we have enough equipment available to get the crop in the ground quickly to take advantage of optimal planting temperatures – whenever they arrive each year.”

Crediting long-term relationships as part of their success, Sprunger says, “Our relationship with every person in the cycle from planting to harvest is very important.”

Planting close to the same hybrids of corn every year allows the farm to choose whether they will harvest high-moisture corn or corn silage each year. “Because we plant a multi-purpose crop, we can choose to go either way,” he says.

When harvest starts to approach, close attention is paid to the milkline in the corn and moisture levels; this helps the farm determine when to harvest. When harvest is imminent, the farm will chop a section of the field and take moisture samples.

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“We are looking for a moisture content of 68 to 71 percent. If moisture levels test higher than that, we’ll hold off on chopping,” says Sprunger.

Although the farm does have a forage harvester on hand, they prefer to work with a silage contractor to harvest the crop. “We talk with our contractor a few weeks before harvest and then every day up until harvest,” says Sprunger.

“We discuss our goals for harvest, how we want the silage put up, including length of cut as well as safety. We’re very cautious about our silage; you only have one chance to get it done, and we want to get it done in the right way.”

Silage at Raygor Farms is stored in three bunkers with cement walls. The bunkers are approximately 100 feet by 35 feet with 12-foot wall sides. The bunkers are open at both ends.

Sprunger notes that this year they will be doing something different to fine-tune their silage management even further. “We will be using our own blade tractor to see if we can improve the packing density,” Sprunger notes.

This is the first year that the farm will be assisting, but by adding a pack tractor, they feel it will not only help improve packing density but also improve the edges of the bunker.

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The silage piles are covered with oxygen-barrier film each year. Plastic is ordered in March. Since adding an oxygen-barrier film to the silage program, Sprunger says they have eliminated the problem of throwing away feed from spoilage.

“From top to bottom, the silage looks the same as the day we put it up. There is no spoilage,” he says.

Looking ahead to harvest, Sprunger says this year they are planning to make the change from sealing the pile edges with soil to gravel bags.

“We have been putting soil at the ends of the bunkers to weigh the plastic down, but we’ve run into issues with soil and mud.” It will also eliminate the step of having to take a loader bucket out and clean away the soil prior to opening.

One of the goals at Raygor Farms is to never run out of feed. “We always want to have fermented feed available for the cows,” Sprunger says. “We’ve calibrated our operation from planting to harvest to make sure we achieve that goal each year.”

Keeping a close eye on feed inventories has allowed them to maintain this goal even in rough years like this past year. Sprunger says they usually average 25 tons per acre, but the drought dropped them to 12 tons per acre. However, with proper planning, this was still enough feed.

“A long carryover of feed inventory is a much better situation to be in, than hoping the feed is going to last two more weeks,” says Sprunger. PD

Pierce is a media relations manager with Filament Marketing in Madison, Wisconsin.

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