Tips to Plan for Silage Harvest

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It’s hard to believe that silage harvest is just a few months away. Starting the planning process now can make the entire process go much smoother when it arrives. Following are planning tips from Luiz Ferraretto, assistant professor and ruminant nutrition extension specialist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Start with supplies that will be needed throughout the process. Consider how much you’ll need, which brands to purchase and where to purchase them. 

  • Plastic covering. Your silage can be enclosed with a plastic covering for up to nine months, depending on inventory, so buy a good product even though it may not the cheapest. If you’ve found a certain brand is prone to punctures, it’s time to go shopping. Producers may also want to include an oxygen-limiting barrier that is laid down before the plastic layer. The barrier can reduce respiration loss and ultimately fermentation loss.
  • Inoculant. Now is a good time to buy your microbial inoculant. Don’t forget that the microbes in an inoculant are living and temperature sensitive. To maintain the microbes’ viability, avoid leaving the inoculant in your truck. Take it right back to the farm and store it in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use your inoculant, don’t leave it out in the sun and mix it with cold water. If you have downtime in the field, try to find a shady area to limit the opportunity for the mixture to heat up. 

Plan for Equipment

  • Tractor weight. Consider how much weight will be needed on top of the crop to essentially squeeze the air out of layers of silage that are being laid down. Your land grant university will have online calculators to assist with identifying the right number of tractors or trucks and weight. 
  • Harvest equipment. If you do need to purchase equipment, this is the time to buy. If planning to use existing equipment, move it out of storage, and start going through the harvester to make sure everything is in proper working condition. As part of the process, make sure knives are sharp, and the processor and inoculant applicators are working well. Check the processor for excessive wear, as this can significantly impact quality later. 

Plan Harvest Timing 

  • Moisture testing. The first step is to determine which fields should be tested first. Producers know when they planted each field and can determine growing degree days required for those hybrids. Weather can shift the maturity dates; but right now, consider when to start testing moisture levels by field which will help narrow the harvest timing window.  
  • Custom harvesters. If you plan to use a custom harvester, now is a good time to start the process of hiring, so you can coordinate your harvest time based on the appropriate moisture levels. 
  • Team planning meeting. Team meetings are essential in planning for silage harvest. It’s important to not only have a discussion with your team about what’s expected from each person but also to share the reason why what they are doing is critical to the process. For example, when training the person driving your harvester, help them understand how important kernel processing is because the tighter the kernel processor is set, the longer it takes to harvest and the more fuel it takes, which is counterintuitive for most. However, breaking up the kernels with the processor can be the difference between making high-quality silage versus low-quality silage. Also, start planning now with contingency scenarios. Things will not always go as you planned, so consider alternative plans if something unexpected happens.

“We talk a lot about speed during harvest – getting the silage ensiled and covered as quickly as possible to limit oxygen exposure – but that should never be to the detriment of the process,” said Dr. Ferraretto. “That includes safety.  There is so much going on during harvest in the field and on the farm. Have a serious talk with your team about silage safety during every silage planning meeting. Constantly question if you are doing things the safest way possible.” 

Dr Luiz.
Dr. Luiz Ferraretto, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Headline courtesy of The Ohio State University

To read more articles like this one:

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How to Make Crappy Silage the Best It Can Be
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