Correct Timing Makes the Best Silage

Correct Timing Makes the Best Silage

With hail and high winds ravaging corn in some areas this week, growers may be looking to salvage what they can of their crop by making silage. In these instances, patience may need to be the first step in the process.

High-quality corn silage often is an economical substitute for some of the grain in finishing and in dairy rations.  And corn silage can be an important winter feed for cow-calf producers.  All too often, though, silage isn't harvested to ensure its best feed value.

Harvest timing is critical for success and should be based on moisture content of the silage. Silage chopped too early and wetter than 70% moisture can run or seep. Often this silage will produce a sour, less palatable fermentation.

Growers often get this wet silage when they rush to salvage corn damaged by wind or hail, as occurred this week in areas of Nebraska. Live green stalks, leaves, and husks almost always are more than 80% moisture, well over recommended moisture levels. Be patient and wait until these tissues start to dry before chopping.

Hailed corn
Figure 1. Hailed corn in eastern Nebraska, August 2011.

Normal corn, though, is often chopped for silage too dry, below 60% moisture.  Then it's difficult to pack the silage adequately to force out air.  The silage heats, energy and protein digestibility declines, and spoilage increases.  If your silage is warm or steams during winter, it probably was too dry when chopped.

Many corn hybrids are at the ideal 60-70% moisture after corn kernels dent and reach the one-half milkline. This guide isn’t perfect for all hybrids, though, so check your own fields independently.

Corn kernels in silage between black layer and half milkline are more digestible. Drier, more mature corn grain tends to pass through the animal more often without digesting unless processed.  Also, older leaves and stalks are less digestible.


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A field of corn.