Harvest timing is critical to silage quality, said Legend Sales Agronomist, Dan Matzek.
"Ideally we know that harvesting corn fields at 60 to 70 percent moisture is best to ensure proper fermentation. However, this may be a challenge for many farmers due to excess moisture, uneven emergence and cool temperatures early in the growing season," Matzek said.
To achieve optimal silage quality this year, Matzek encourages growers to implement two staging tests in order to determine if a field is ready to chop.
The first, he explained is pretty simple. "Basically take an ear, break it in half and look at the kernel’s milk line. When the milk line hits the middle of the kernel, the entire plant has typically reached 65 to 70 percent moisture. Review ears from several plants throughout the field to determine a field moisture average," he said.
The second test, however, requires a bit more effort and involves a wood chipper, as Matzek explained. "Pull three plants from three different areas in the field and chop them. Then pull a sub sample of the chopped plants and dry that sample, then weight it again to get the percent moisture. Recheck a sample of the chopped silage when you are ready to start chopping," he said.
By using both of these methods, growers can safely determine the field’s moisture level.
"The more samples you take, the more accurate your moisture assessment will be," Matzek said.
The exception, he said, would be in fields where there is a significant gap between planting dates, or in fields where portions needed to be replanted. "In those cases, I encourage growers to harvest the different planting dates at different times so that the moisture content is not over 72 percent," he said.
Preserve quality with inoculants
Each year, growers only have one opportunity to do the job right. Matzek said when it comes to putting up silage, whether you’re a dairy or beef producer, the silage produced accounts for a significant portion of the beef or milk produced in a year. His advice is to protect your investment with inoculants.
"Although inoculants will never improve silage quality; because they speed up fermentation, inoculants help preserve nutrients and overall quality of the plant you harvested," Matzek said. "They are well worth the investment. In fact, I recommend that growers use inoculants on all silage."
He also encourages farmers to use inoculants made up of live bacteria – the ones that need to be refrigerated or frozen before use.
"Even though inoculants made of dead bacteria still work, they are not as effective. Again, we only have one opportunity to get it right," he said. "So, if you are spending the money and taking the time to use inoculants, why not use the best available?"