Packing silage

Chopping silage at the right time and getting it packed well can help producers get the most out of it. 

Chopping corn for silage can provide producers with a quality feed component for livestock. Gene Schmitz, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist, says some good production practices can help farmers get the most out of their silage.

Moisture content is a good indicator for when to chop silage.

“Our target is 65% moisture,” Schmitz says, “which allows for a good pack with good oxygen exclusion. That’s a good key, getting the oxygen out of it.”

Silage that is chopped when the corn is too dry does not pack well, and silage that is chopped too wet can have leaching of nutrients and more spoilage, Schmitz says.

When it comes to storing silage, it is important to get it tightly packed.

“When you think you’re done packing, you run a tractor over it for three more days,” Schmitz says, chuckling. “You just can’t overpack it… If we don’t get the oxygen excluded, we have a lot of spoilage.”

He says packing silage between hay bales or in a pile on the ground can be tough to get the edges packed tightly enough, but he says it is possible.

“We just lose an awful lot of feed value by not getting it packed well,” Schmitz says. “I’ve seen piles work as long as they’re packed well and packed out to the edge. Those edges are really critical.”

Bunker silos or bags can work well. Overall, Schmitz says farmers make a lot of locations work for storing silage.

“That’s one thing about this job,” he says. “You see people make a lot of things work.”

Schmitz says he has built beef cattle feed rations with silage making up anywhere from 20 to 70% of the dry matter, depending on a variety of factors.

“It depends upon how much energy or corn is in the silage, the body condition of the cattle, and where they’re at in their production stage,” he says.

Some rations for backgrounding cattle can be up in the 50 to 80% range, Schmitz says, and the right mixtures can maximize the value of the silage.

“You usually need to add some protein to corn silage,” he says.

Dirk Diehl farms in Bates County, Missouri, with a diversified operation of row crops and livestock. He says rains in late July and early August likely pushed back the silage chopping timetable somewhat.

“Chopping will be held off for awhile with the moisture keeping the corn green,” he says.

Schmitz says nitrates in silage can be a concern, more so in drought-stressed corn. One remedy for this is raising the cutter bar to 12 to 18 inches, leaving more of the bottom of the stalk in fields.

“Most of the nitrates in the plant are found in the bottom foot of a plant,” Schmitz says. “We can leave a lot of the nitrates in the field.”

Additionally, about half of the nitrates in silage are lost in the ensiling process. After letting that process happen over about six weeks, producers can sample the silage and do a nitrate analysis if they have concerns.

Overall, silage can be valuable for livestock operations.

“It’s an excellent feed ingredient,” Schmitz says.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.