By Bruce Anderson
High-quality corn silage often is an economical substitute for some of the grain in finishing and in dairy rations, and it can be an important winter feed for cow-calf producers. All too often, though, silage isn't harvested at the best time for ultimate feed value.
Timing needs to be based on moisture content of the silage. Silage chopped too early and wetter than 70% moisture can run or seep, and it often produces a sour, less palatable fermentation. We often get this wet silage when we rush to salvage hail- or wind-damaged corn. Live and green stalks, leaves and husks almost always are more than 80% moisture, so be patient and wait until these tissues start to dry before chopping.
Normal corn, though, is often chopped for silage too dry, below 60% moisture. Then it's difficult to pack the silage adequately to force out air. The silage heats, energy and protein digestibility declines, and spoilage increases. If your silage is warm or steams during winter, it probably was too dry when chopped.
Many corn hybrids are at the ideal 60% to 70% moisture as corn kernels reach the one-half milkline. This guide isn't perfect for all hybrids, though, so check your own fields independently.
Corn kernels in silage between half milkline and black layer are more digestible. Drier, more mature corn grain tends to pass through the animal more often without digesting unless processed. Also, older leaves and stalks are less digestible.
Remember, chopping your silage at the proper moisture level can mean better feed and better profits.