Putting up good-quality corn silage is more pertinent than ever during these tough economic times. The following are the first two of several key silage problems – with their solutions – courtesy of Keith Bolsen, professor emeritus and forage management specialist with Kansas State University.
Problem No. 1: High shrink losses in bunker silos and drive-over piles.
- Start with a quality product, which means planting the right hybrid for your situation and then harvesting it at optimum maturity and whole-plant dry matter (DM) content.
- Hire well-trained experienced people, especially those who operate the choppers, pack tractors and feedout equipment, Bolsen says.
- Apply the appropriate inoculant at the forage chopper. If your custom harvester protests having to apply inoculant from his harvester, you may want to look for one more willing to do so, he suggests. The "right" inoculant, he says, may or may not contain Lactobacillus buchneri. "If you suspect that you could have aerobic stability issues during feedout (bunkers or piles may be too large to be efficient, for example), then certainly you would want to choose a Lactobacillus buchneri-containing inoculant." If you do not expect to have aerobic stability problems, use an inoculant with multiple strains of homofermentative lactic acid bacteria.
- Pack every load of forage in bunkers or piles to a high, uniform density. Bolsen suggests a minimum DM density of 15 lbs/cu ft. (See story on proper packing density, above.)
- Seal bunker or pile surfaces effectively, using adequate plastic or oxygen-barrier film to keep oxygen out.
- Start a silage quality-control program on your operation and schedule regular meetings. Bolsen suggests gathering everyone remotely involved in silage handling – nutritionists, silage contractors, pack-tractor operators, feeders, etc. "Get everybody on the same page about what is going to be important for managing the harvest window for the season." Then schedule regular meetings every six to eight weeks. For example, say it's the first of December and you've been feeding new-crop corn silage for about four to six weeks. "If I'm the nutritionist, I'm going to get together with one or two individuals on that dairy who are doing the feeding and say, 'How is this year's corn silage doing? Do we have any issues with aerobic stability, surface spoilage, or heat damage and mold?' There are a lot of things you can get feedback from someone else on the team who is involved with that silage two-three times a day."
- Carefully monitor the kernel maturity and drydown rates of each corn field so harvest can be scheduled correctly. (Watch for our next issue of eCorn Silage for harvest-timing tips.)