Harvesting high-quality alfalfa either for hay or silage should be among the highest priorities for dairy producers.

"Putting up good-quality forage pays off by both saving money from grain purchases and by increasing milk production," says Alvaro Garcia, South Dakota State University extension dairy specialist.

Garcia recommends some ways to improve haylage quality:

  • When ensiling alfalfa in a pile, remember to size the feed-out face to allow for a daily re-moval of at least 5” from the exposed surface. To calculate the necessary face width (in feet) for this removal rate, multiply the total amount to be fed daily by 12. Then divide the result by the product of multiplying the height of the pile (in feet) times 14.8 (silage density) times 5. Dry matter losses may be 10 percentage points less when silage is fed faster than 5” per day.
  • A common recommendation for adequate theoretical length of cut is 3/8”. Actual length of the forage coming out of the chopper can be checked using a particle size separator. More than 15-20% of the particles should be longer than 1.5”.
  • Keep in mind that the ideal particle size of the alfalfa silage depends on the particle size of the other forages in the total mixed ration (TMR). The goal should be that at least 15% of the particles in the TMR are over 1.5”. If corn silage is chopped finely, the haylage particle size should be a little longer. If long hay is a signifi-cant part of the TMR, the haylage may be chopped shorter.
  • Fill fast, pack well, seal promptly. Those are usual recommendations to achieve adequate preservation and good-quality silage at feed-out. Al-though speeding up the filling stage is important, allow enough time for an adequate packing job.

An adequate packing rate in tons per hour can be calculated by dividing the tonnage of the tractor used to pack by 800. A tractor that weighs 26,000 lbs can then effectively pack 32.5 tons of silage per hour (26,000/800). In a 12-hour work-day, this tractor will be able to pack 384 tons of silage while maintaining a reasonable filling speed.

For more information, contact Garcia at 605-688-5488.