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When silage runs low, don’t rush new crop

Outsource feed and develop a short silage pile for blending.

November 28, 2023

3 Min Read
A tractor preparing silage
CORN SILAGE: All phases of fermentation are necessary to preserve the quality and increase the availability of the nutrients in silage. On average, this initial process takes 21 days. JackF/Getty Images

by Martin J. Carrasquillo Mangual

How do you keep up with the continual demand for corn silage when inventories are running low or are no longer sufficient?

This situation is often answered by purchasing additional loads of silage to either complement or substitute the source of corn silage in the rations. The goal is to outsource while bridging the gap until new corn silage becomes available after ensiling.

However, a pressing question that occurs with farms in this situation is, when is the new silage ready for feeding? The question is often answered by, “I need it now.”

Proper fermentation critical

In a previous article, MSU Extension delved into some of the intricacies of the fermentation process. It's crucial to remember that all phases of this process are necessary to preserve the quality and increase the availability of the nutrients in silage. On average, this initial process takes 21 days.

At that point, the new corn silage is expected to stabilize and become ready for feeding. Recent data from Michigan State University supports that digestibility may continue to improve beyond 41 days after ensiling, pointing to the traditional advice to allow for two months of fermentation before feeding if possible.

What if dairy farmers don’t have 21 days?

First, it is important to remember that changing forage sources is never advisable without a proper transition. An abrupt change can be detrimental for the stability of the rumen environment. Each forage change should be blended into the ration to allow the rumen time to adapt to the nutritional profile of the new feed source.

Thus, our initial recommendation is to continue outsourcing corn silage for some weeks after new silage is harvested, when possible, but if you want to decrease your bill for outsourced feed you can use the 21 days as the transition to the new source of corn silage.

Postharvest

MSU Extension recommends creating a separate short pile of newly harvested silage, established on day one of silage harvest.

The goal is to pack and cover a pile of silage that contains enough inventory to support two to three weeks of feeding. This short pile is to be kept separate from your main silage pile (see image below).

Martin J. Mangual, MSU Extension - A short silage pile

After silage harvest is completed, this short pile should become the source of silage to be blended with your outsourced forage. Using this pile allows the bulk of your harvested new crop to ferment adequately and complete this process undisturbed by oxygen.

Don’t forget that the fermentation process is incomplete, thus digestibility, acid profile and even nutritional composition is expected to be different than fully fermented corn silage. Therefore, plan with your nutritionist to ensure rations are adjusted accordingly.

After the fermentation process is completed in the main pile, it can be tested and be used as the main source of silage. Ideally, use the left over from the short pile to blend with the new forage source until it runs out.

Address shortfall problem

In addition to managing the current shortage, it's crucial to maintain records and analyze the factors contributing to silage inventory shortfalls. Meet with your agronomist, herd nutritionist and MSU Extension expert to develop strategies for addressing and preventing such situations in the future. Options may include ration adjustments and different hybrid selection for the next year, among others.

Careful planning and a gradual transition process are key to ensuring a stable supply of high-quality silage for your valuable dairy herd. By following a well-structured transition plan and analyzing the specific factors affecting your dairy farm, you can better prepare for future harvest seasons and maintain the health and productivity of your herd.

For more information, questions, or regarding your dairy farm's situation, contact Martin Mangual, MSU Extension, at [email protected].

Mangual writes for MSU Extension.

Source: MSU Extension

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SilageCorn Silage
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