Silage Considerations

Silage Considerations
10/20/2017

Here are some key considerations for beef and dairy producers to consider before and during use of silage in their operation.

  1. Correct moisture content (or dry matter (DM). If silage is too wet, you will have considerable drainage, and maybe even incorrect fermentation. Conversely, if silage gets too dry, it will be hard to pack and remove the oxygen during storage, which can lead to greater losses, spoilage, and perhaps incorrect fermentation. Ideal moisture is 35 to 40% DM or 60 to 65% moisture. For optimum feeding performance, there is some evidence that 37% is a good target. The challenge is knowing the moisture while corn is standing in the field.
  2. Correct packing. If silage is not correctly packed into a bunker (or bagged or put in silos), then oxygen will remain in the pile which leads to greater shrink losses. A good target is 15 lb of DM per cubic foot, or about 45 lb of as-is silage per cubic foot. The best way to judge this is to calculate the approximate amount of tonnage and height your bunker should be based on the dimensions. If you are off target, then you are likely not getting sufficient packing. A good rule of thumb is to pack 3 to 6 inches of loose silage at a time. Don’t overfill bunkers with several feet of loose silage before deciding to pack with tractors or packing equipment.
  3. Cover bunkers. You should always cover silage stored in bunkers with plastic. Numerous options are available including oxygen barriers and different thicknesses. Consider the bunker you have and how best to cover. If the bunker is not covered as soon as possible (within 24 hours or so), you lose material the entire time the pile is exposed.
  4. Feeding silage out of the bunker. How you manage the surface of the silage pile matters the rest of the year. The size of your pile or “face” of the bunker also matters. A rule of thumb is to be able to remove 6 to 8 inches from the entire surface of your bunker daily. That means if you have a relatively small number of cattle or silage amount being fed daily, then you need a smaller face to manage.
  5. Test silage. Once silage is put in a pile, it is always a good idea to sample that pile after three to four weeks (when ensiling is complete) to test for energy content, pH, and moisture.
  6. Measure shrink. If the considerations mentioned above are ignored, feed losses or shrink may be increased. It is recommended that shrink be measured on all feeds by quantifying total wet tons put into the bunker and sampling at harvest for moisture content, so tons of DM put into the bunker can be quantified. If shrink is managed well by following these considerations, shrink losses should be less than 15%.

More information is available at http://beef.unl.edu/silage-beef-cattle-conference where you can download much of this information and see videos from experts in many of these areas.

Article is out of Dairy Herd Management, October 2017

Tags: Management Tips, Silage