Determining your end goal is important when making corn silage decisions. At the end of the process, a high-quality feed for livestock can be achieved if corn silage is properly ensiled. To achieve this end goal, the harvesting process is critical.
The ideal time to harvest corn silage is dependent on numerous factors, but the most important may be whole plant moisture/dry matter. Most farmers will target a whole corn plant dry matter of 35% (moisture of 65%) for chopping, writes David Shiley, University of Illinois Extension educator.
Harvesting at the correct moisture will be crucial for achieving good packing density. The whole plant moisture should be between 60% and 70%. Storage structure will impact what end of that range you want to be on. Bunkers or pit silo storage will need to have more moisture to ensure a very good pack. Bagging or upright silo storage can accommodate a little dryer material. Chop length is also a factor. Ensuring chop length remains short is vital to a good pack and proper fermentation of the corn silage.
Determining moisture can sometimes be difficult in the field. One way is to look at the milk line on the corn kernel. A milk line one-half to three-quarters of the way down the kernel should indicate a whole plant moisture of 60% to 70%. If the corn has black layered, the whole plant moisture is likely under 60%. This may vary depending on hybrid.
Another good way to measure moisture in the field is to grab a handful of silage and attempt to make a ball. If the ball holds shape and there is a lot of free juice, the silage is approximately 75% moisture. If the ball holds shape but there is little juice, the moisture is likely 70% to 75%. If the ball falls apart slowly, the silage is likely 60% to 70% moisture. When the silage will not make a ball for even a short period of time, the moisture is poor and likely below 60%.
Target three-quarters of the way down the kernel for the milk line. When starting the harvest, check the silage by grabbing a handful and attempting to make a ball. The correct moisture should make a ball that holds and falls apart slowly. If your silage is out of the optimum range for moisture, then look into adding an inoculant and potentially a sugar source. Bagging will result in a better chance at proper ensiling than ground piles or bunkers when moisture targets are missed.
Original article by David Shiley can be viewed here.
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