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The first rule of silage: what goes in dictates what comes out. Variety selection, pre-harvest management and harvest timing are major determinants of the potential quality of the resulting silage. Then cutting and chopping, inoculant selection, filling and packing, covering and feedout management are all important to the quantity of silage available to feed and the ultimate quality of the forage fed, notes Bob Charley, Ph.D., Forage Products Manager, Lallemand Animal Nutrition.

“Forages typically make up 40 to 60 percent of the ration on a dry matter (DM) basis,” Dr. Charley says. “All other ingredients in the ration should then be determined based on the quality of this main component. It’s much easier, cheaper and more effective to balance rations when producers start with high-quality silage in the first place.”

A solid game plan and checklist can help producers make this most of this critical harvest period. Key factors to include are:

1) Harvest timing

・ Harvest at the optimal stage of maturity

・ Harvest at (or wilt to, if necessary) the optimum plant moisture level

2) Cutting and chopping

・ Choose the correct cutting height. For areas that experienced drought, consider raising the cutter bar to 18 inches or more if nitrates are a concern

・ Select the optimum theoretical length of chop (TLC)

・ Remember corn harvested for silage at higher than 32 percent DM should be processed to maximize starch utilization by the animal

3) Inoculant

・ Select an inoculant proven to deliver the results you need, specifically fermentation enhancement and/or aerobic stability

・ Store inoculant correctly (see product label) and follow recommended mixing and application instructions

・ Consider using a low-volume applicator with an insulated tank, if appropriate

・ Be sure to sanitize and correctly calibrate the applicator

・ Keep the inoculant cool after rehydration

4) Filling and packing

・ Fill quickly

・ Use progressive wedges in bunkers and piles, with maximum 6-inch fill layers

・ Ensure the packing weight is adequate for the delivery rate. A rule of thumb is: delivery rate (tons per hour) times 800 equals packing weight required (in pounds)

・ Calculate packing time required with the machinery available

・ Target packing density of at least 45 pounds fresh weight per cubic foot

・ Seal the silo quickly and effectively

“Inoculant selection allows producers to address specific challenges they may have experienced in the past,” Dr. Charley says. “For example, using the lactic acid bacteria Pediococcus pentosaceus 12455 —fueled by sugars generated by high activity enzymes — promotes a fast, efficient front-end fermentation. Promoting a fast pH drop can also reduce initial yeast growth, and yeasts are the major cause of silage heating.”

Specific inoculants can benefit producers with a history of spoilage losses too. With spoilage losses, the key is to prevent or delay the growth of yeasts that grow when oxygen gets into the silage at feedout. The high dose rate Lactobacillus buchneri 40788 is reviewed by the FDA and allowed to claim efficacy in preventing the growth of yeasts and molds in silages and HMC.

For forages prone to spoilage — like drier haylage, corn and cereal silages, HMC and cereal grains, baleage and baled hay — producers should consider a combination of P. pentosaceus 12455 plus enzymes with the high level L. buchneri 40788. This offers the benefits of both a fast, efficient fermentation and less heating and spoilage at feedout.

“Time invested now in planning and preparation for the silage season can pay off big time later in the year with lower feed costs and higher performance,” Dr. Charley says. “In silage production, there is no substitute for attention to the basics.”

For more information on planning for a successful silage harvest, print this checklist and share with your harvest team.

Lallemand Animal Nutrition is committed to optimizing animal performance and well-being with specific natural microbial product and service solutions. Using sound science, proven results and knowledge, Lallemand Animal Nutrition develops, manufactures and markets high value yeast and bacteria products ─ including probiotics, silage inoculants and yeast derivatives. Lallemand offers a higher level of expertise, leadership and industry commitment with long-term and profitable solutions to move our partners Forward. Lallemand Animal Nutrition is Specific for your success. For more information, please visit