SEDALIA, Mo. – While it is still too soon to sound the alarm on “drought”, there are some areas that are becoming severely dry. How this may impact the corn crop is still to be determined. However, it’s not out of the question if dry weather continues, that some corn will be chopped or baled for silage. Being proactive and thinking through this process a little bit can be the difference between a high-quality feed and garbage.
The first piece of the puzzle is to get the moisture right. The target is 65 to 70 percent moisture for trench or bunker silos. Bagged silage can be a bit drier with recommended moisture between 60 to 70 percent. If harvested too wet, there will be excess seepage and nutrient loss and a poor-quality fermentation that may result in spoiled or refused feed. If harvested too dry, it is very difficult to pack and excess loss
due to spoilage and mold growth can be expected.
Remember that oxygen is the enemy of silage. Therefore, by getting the moisture right, the pile can be adequately packed. I think it is almost impossible to overpack a pile or bunker of silage. By creating an anaerobic environment, the appropriate microbes can do their thing by producing organic acids to quickly drop pH and stabilize the silage pile.
Bunkers and piles should be covered with plastic as soon as possible. This prevents excess top spoilage and conserves feed quality. Be sure that water will run off the outside of the silo or pile and not run down between the silo wall and the silage. If bagging, patch holes as soon as they are found. Again, the goal is to exclude oxygen.
Some producers will try to set up a “silo” using round hay bales for the sides and end. It is extremely difficult and dangerous to pack the silage properly in such a setup. This can lead to improperly fermented silage and moldy, low-quality feed with high waste potential.
If salvaging a drought damaged crop, corn can be baled and wrapped. This does come with its’ own set of issues however. First is trying to make sure the bale is tight enough to exclude oxygen. This can be especially problematic if there are ears on the stalks. Second, the stalks are not chopped, so there can be a lot of waste when feeding bales. Feeding also needs to be thought through, especially if feeding in hay rings. Corn
silage bales are not something to full feed due to the high energy content relative to most livestock needs. For mature beef cows, a ration of 30 to 50% corn silage and 50 to 70% grass hay seems to be in the general ballpark to meet nutritional needs. Limit feeding round silage bales is an interesting dilemma without many good options.
Drought silage may contain high levels of nitrates. One way to partly deal with high nitrates is to raise the cutting height of the chopper or swather. Nitrates accumulate in the lower stem bases first. Some nitrate will be lost during the ensiling process, but additional nitrate can simply be left standing in the field.
Hopefully these reminders will be useful and provide some food for thought before a quick response needs to happen. Having plans ahead of time will help salvage a crop by producing a high-quality feed rather than having to cobble something together on the spur of the moment and winding up with a moldy mess. If you have additional questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Pettis County Extension Center at (660) 827-0591.
— Gene Schmitz, MU Extension