Plan to Harvest: Tips to Maximize ROI at Harvest

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Silage Guide

When it’s time to harvest silage, losses can eat up your silage crop. All totaled, unavoidable losses from respiration and the fermentation process can reduce the crop by 5% to 15%.

“How you harvest in the field and pack during ensiling can make a huge difference to silage
losses throughout fermentation,” said Dr. Luiz Ferraretto, assistant professor and ruminant
nutrition extension specialist at University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Rate of harvesting. The key is to harvest fast enough to limit exposure to air, so the faster you ensile the forage and seal the silo, the better. However, it’s also very important to pack well to avoid other issues.

  • Avoid packing with muddy tractor tires. Mud in the silo increases the ash content and reduces the nutritive value of the silage.

Pack silage tight. Look online for guidelines to calculate how long to pack to achieve the desired density. The goal is to limit oxygen being trapped in the silage through weight and time.

  • Put down fi ve to eight inches, pack that layer, then put down and pack again.
  • If time is short, you’ll need heavier tractors to remove the air from in-between the particles.
  • Oxygen-limiting barriers are helpful at reducing respiration loss.

Particle size and plant maturity. Often, these two factors are associated. The longer the particle, the harder it is to pack because there is more air entrapped by any given particle. Ferraretto recommends a theoretical length of cut at ¾ inch.

  • If harvesting longer particles or drier material, then pack for a little longer.
  • If harvesting more mature material, like 38% to 40% dry matter, consider reducing the particle size to help with fermentation.

Apply a microbial inoculant.

  • Homolactic acid bacteria inoculants Speed up fermentation early in the process and reduce pH.
  • Heterolactic acid bacteria inoculants Use Lactobacillus buchneri to improve aerobic stability by using lactate to make enough acetic acid to limit yeast and molds which will reduce aerobic spoilage.


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