Harvest Timing Critical to Quality Silage

Harvest Timing Critical to Quality Silage

August 15, 2008

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

Corn is a bit behind this year in most areas. That means you may need to shift your date for harvesting corn silage to match the development stage of your corn.

Timing needs to be based on moisture content of the silage. Silage chopped too early and wetter than 70% moisture can run or seep and it often produces a sour, less palatable fermentation. More frequently, though, we chop corn silage too dry, below 60% moisture. Then it's difficult to chop and pack the silage adequately to force out air. The silage heats, protein and energy digestibility decline, 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 level as corn kernels reach the one-half milkline. This guide isn't perfect for all hybrids, though, so check your field independently.Corn kernels in silage between half milkline and black layer are more digestible. Drier, more mature corn grain tends to pass through the animal more often without digesting. Also, older leaves and stalks are less digestible.

Chopping silage at the optimum time will help provide better feed and better profits.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist