With today's high feed costs, silage management can have a significant impact on your bottom line. That's why you must pay attention to hybrid selection, field conditions and harvest timing/management to help make the most of your silage crops.
"It always comes down to good management," says Steve Soderlund, Pioneer nutritionist and key livestock account manager. "Decisions made throughout the growing season can affect silage success and a producer's ability to be more profitable."
Soderlund says that when it's seed selection time, you should look for hybrids that not only provide good yield but also above average fiber digestibility and good grain (starch) content. In addition, you should consider planting hybrids of varying maturities to help accommodate harvest timing and ensure adequate moisture throughout harvest.
"If we can't grow it, it doesn't matter what the feed value is," Soderlund says. "That's the foundation we need to be working from."
Look at agronomics, field conditions
Once hybrids are in the ground and growing, as they are now, it's critical to know the state of individual fields and individual hybrid maturities so growers can target harvest dates.
"Working with your agronomist and nutritionist to figure out what quality you're shooting for, as well as yield, is key," Soderlund says.
As you near your anticipated harvest date, walk fields to evaluate how the crop is progressing. Harvest timing can be affected by many factors beyond just weather conditions, including soil fertility, weed control and pest management. These factors can influence whole plant moisture content and drydown rates.
Time harvest with performance in mind
Harvest timing is critical to producing high-quality corn silage that delivers optimal performance for livestock. Soderlund says moisture and maturity are the two key harvest considerations. "Typically, we like to see corn silage put up in the 63 to 68 percent moisture range," Soderlund says. "Generally, the kernel milkline will be half to three-quarters at this moisture range. However, farmers should keep in mind that milkline is not always a good indicator in some hybrids, so overall moisture is still the best measurement."
Accurately determining whole plant moisture is important because harvesting corn for silage too early (high moisture content) or too late (low moisture content) can affect forage yield, quality and silage fermentation.
According to Soderlund, some farmers push the maturity window and may pick up more wet tons, but reduce their quality because the starch doesn't have time to fill in.