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Silage

Plan your silage production from seed selection to harvest and packing the pile with tips from these ag professionals.

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Silage is the feedstuff produced by the fermentation of a crop, forage or agricultural byproduct of generally greater than 50 percent moisture content. Ensiling is the name given to the process, and the container (if used) is called a silo.

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Estimates of the percentage of corn harvested for silage in the U.S. range from 7 to 10 percent, depending on the year and who’s doing the estimating. A small portion of this acreage was planted for grain but harvested for silage because of low corn prices, too much rain, not enough rain, bugs, weeds or disease. Therefore, the true market for seed corn for silage is 7 percent of total seed corn sales or perhaps a bit less.

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Rainfall or runoff from melting snow can impact a feeder’s ability to correctly feed dairy cattle. Added water from precipitation or runoff decreases silage dry matter (DM) content. In these situations, more silage must be fed to meet an animal’s nutrient requirements for production. Failure to adjust feeding rate has potential economic consequences, especially when high levels of silage are fed and substantial amounts of water has been added. First, dry matter intake (DMI) decreases because the ration includes more water and less actual feed nutrients. Second, average milk production decreases because of reduced energy intake from the ration. Third, milk fat may decrease because of altering the forage-to-concentrate ratio (less fiber from forage and proportionately more concentrate in diet).

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Forages are an integral component of the ration for dairy cows. The quality and consistency of the forage can have a significant impact on the production, profitability and health of the dairy cow. Forage quality can be extremely variable, based on hybrid or variety, area where grown, soil conditions, weather, harvesting, storage and feedout conditions.

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Corn silage production has changed dramatically in the last decade. Dairy expansion, the development of new corn hybrids specifically selected for forage yield and quality and new ideas for production and management have changed the view of farmers regarding the importance of silage to livestock production.

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One of the longest nights in dairying is the night before opening a new silo. Questions like “Did I get the moisture right? Did I pack tightly? Did I chop at correct length?” are asked over and over until somehow we finally manage to fall asleep.

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