Ask the Silage Dr.: Wilt Window for Small-Grain Silages

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Q. What is the ideal wilting time for small-grain forage crops?

A. Oats, barley, wheat and rye are all common cereal grain crops harvested for silage. Small grains can be grown from other crops – for example, some producers use Canadian field peas for a silage that produces a quality somewhere between a pure small grain and alfalfa.

The ideal wilt window when harvesting small-grain forages for silage is at least 32% dry matter (DM), and preferably to greater than 35% DM, following mowing. Hitting this critical wilt window is important. Proper wilting time helps minimize the potential for clostridial silages.

Any crop with a high protein content and lower fermentable sugars – such as some small-grain cereal silages and also clover, alfalfa and grasses – are at risk for clostridial silage since they tend to be cut closer to the ground. When crops are cut close, there’s a higher risk for soil contamination. Soil can contain very high numbers of spoilage microbes like clostridia and enterobacteria, both of which can result in silages with feeding issues. Many consider clostridial silage to be the worst possible result. The silage will be wet, dark and smell foul and should not be fed to pregnant or transition cows and only fed in limited amounts to lactating dairy cows (to maintain intake of butyric acid below 50 g per head per day).

When unstable and potentially moldy feeds are ingested by cattle, the consequences on rumen function and performance can be disastrous. They can push a cow or steer with borderline rumen function into metabolic issues such as Sub Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA) and can also contribute to health and fertility problems.

Please keep this in mind and consider using a forage inoculant that will help stimulate a rapid, front-end fermentation, and take care when feeding.


The Silage Dr.


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