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Cut It Right, Pack It Tight

Cut It Right, Pack It Tight

Those are the keys to minimize silage spoilage and feeding losses.

It is silage making season and there’s a bunch of tips, videos and Q&A sites that might be worth checking out.

J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension dairy specialist, says a general guideline for the amount of packing equipment needed to match up with high harvesting rates is 800 pounds of packing weight per ton of silage delivered.

For a 50 tons-per-hour harvest rate, a producer would need 40,000 pounds (50 x 800), or 20 tons, of packing equipment to achieve high-density levels. Harvesting equipment can overwhelm packing capacity very easily at the bunker.

Cut It Right, Pack It Tight

Forage expert Brian Holmes, an agricultural engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied what factors affect silage density levels. He says they include:

•Delivery rate -- making sure the rate is matched to packing time.
•Dry matter content -- not too wet or dry
•Depth of silage in the bunker silo -- lower portions of the silo are higher in density
•Increased tractor weight -- more is better
•Reducing the packing layer thickness -- consider 6 inches versus 12 inches
•Packing time -- matched to delivery rate

Researchers at Cornell University found that tractor weight and packing time were the most important factors affecting density.

Schroeder says you want to aim for a silage density of 15 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot.

There’s an interesting video online of silage packing at Double Dutch Dairy. Lots of packing tractors are on the line

On an on-line forum, a farmer asked about using a payloader rather than a tractor to pack silage. There were several responses, both pro and con. Check it out.

Cutting silage at the proper stage for ensiling is important to minimize losses, too. It may increase the nutrient content and consumption, thus reducing feeding losses. Silage that is put up too wet usually results in slower fermentation and the loss of large volumes of highly digestible nutrients through seepage, and poor animal performance due to low consumption. On the other hand, overly dry forage is difficult to pack, resulting in mold and heating.

A report by the South Dakota State University Extension Service says that corn for silage should be chopped at 65-70% moisture (30 to 35% dry matter) for bunker silos.

Under normal conditions, plants that are ready for harvest will exhibit some browning of the lower leaves while the upper 3/4 of the plant will be green; husks will be dried to a tan color; ears will have fully dented and glazed kernels; and whole plant moisture will be in the range of 60 to 68%.

Milk line formation is another indicator to check. Ideally most corn silage will be harvested from 1/3 milk line to black layer maturity.

Additional information can be found in the SDSU online publications:  Use a Microwave Oven to Determine Moisture Content of Forage and Relationship Between Kernel Growth Stage at Harvest and Silage Dry Matter Production in Corn.

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