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143027

Women in Ag: Corn Silage Harvest is On!

It’s that time of year when my husband and I focus on fall harvest here at the dairy. Our biggest fall crop is corn, which we utilize as corn silage as well as high-moisture corn. Today, the crew is hard at work on our corn silage. For those of you not familiar with this product, it is the whole corn plant, cut off roughly 6 inches from the ground, chopped into pieces that are about ¾-inch long, and we process or grind up the corn kernels as best we can. Here on our farm, that is then ensiled into two bunker (or horizontal) silos.

               As a nutritionist, I spend a lot of time with my clients on their crops at harvest but none so much as corn silage. To me, this crop is perhaps one of the biggest gambles that a dairy will make all year. The reason for that is because it is the highest-yielding crop, and if, for some reason, we get it wrong, we have a lot of it to contend with the whole year.

               Because of the importance of this feed, I work with my clients and here at home to monitor the moisture content of the corn prior to harvest. This is a feed that, if done too dry, will have much lower digestibility, which will hamper not only the intakes of the cows but also their performance on it. They will not milk as well as they could if the corn had closer to optimal moisture. If it’s too wet, we risk a very poor fermentation process; a pile, bunker, or silo that leaches nutrients; and again reduced intakes as well as performance. It’s key that we shoot for that ideal range; somewhere between 62% and 68% moisture is a sweet spot that works well. This is why we see corn dry-down days at many feed mills, co-ops, and through Extension agents.

               Once we’ve gotten the moisture to where it needs to be, I will make every effort to be at the farm early in the actual harvesting of the crop. I want to take a look at how the feed is coming in and monitor other key things about how it is harvested. My main concern is chop length with a goal of ¾ to 1 inch depending on the farm and how well processed the corn kernels are.

               To monitor these things, I start with a visual inspection of the feed as it comes out. I will grab several different handfuls and sort through it looking for uncracked kernels and consistency in the length of the feed. I then take a sample – several handfuls – and shake it out with my Penn State shaker box. This gives me an accurate breakdown of the chopped corn. The longest will be on the top screen; the smallest pieces will be on the bottom. I can easily look through the bottom pan to check the processing.

               For the most part, after the initial look of awe by the harvesting crew, they are genuinely interested in what I find and will work to meet the standard the farm and I have set. I think that the desire to do what is best for the cows always flows through even to the people working for the farm who have no connection to the cows themselves.

               There are some additional things I will recommend to my clients to help put up the best crop possible. I highly encourage them to use inoculants or an acid product either to promote fermentation or to decrease the risk of mold growth in storage. They each have a cost, and we will work through the return on investment of these additional products. They become particularly important after very dry growing seasons or very wet and especially when we can’t quite get the corn harvested in the ideal window we shoot for.

               After all of this, I think it’s easy to say that producing corn silage is possibly the greatest gamble of the year for an operation like ours. There are 300 hungry mouths to feed in our barns, and this feed will go to them all. It’s incredibly important that we do it right to make our lives easier and to provide them with the most nutritious and delicious meal we can!

              

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