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Effects of Storing Corn Silage on Your Herd


Quality corn silage is the backbone of any profitable dairy operation. Like a fine wine or cheese, the longer corn silage ages the better it will be. If you harvest at proper maturity, chop length and moisture then store appropriately, packed tightly and covered with plastic, you are well on your way to ensuring you will be able to provide quality corn silage to your dairy herd in the months to come.

Dairy cattle feeding on silage.So what happens once the silage is properly packed and stored? "The pH of the forage will drop, the oxygen will be driven out and the lactic acid will increase," explains Southern States® Feed Sales & Technical Representative Tommy Barron. "All mold, yeast and bacteria growth will stop and the soluble protein and digestibility of the silage will increase."

Starch Availability

Over time during storage, the quality of silage can increase as starch becomes more available. Ideally you will wait a minimum of three months before feeding to your herd. "The quantity of starch does not change, but the availability of starch to the bugs in a cow's rumen changes," notes Daniel Laprade, also a Southern States Feed Sales and Technical Representative. "The first three to six months the rumen bugs can digest an increasing percent of starch from the same quantity of starch." In an ideal world it would be great if corn silage wasn't fed until it had been stored for six months.

Extra time in storage makes the corn silage go from "87 octane" up to "93 octane", because the cow's digestive system will have more starch available for digestion. "The silage will need to be tested on a regular basis and the ration adjusted to account for the changes," suggests Barron. Large dairies generally test on a weekly basis as they feed such large quantities of silage. Conversely, smaller dairies may need to test less often.

Maximizing Quality

If possible, keep enough silage on hand so you always have a source to feed from that has been ensiled for four to six months. This will allow the silage you feed to be of the highest quality from a milk yield or ration balancing perspective, your silage will have a greater feeding value which may mean you have to buy less grain. A silage stockpile should also allow for smooth transitions from one silo to another, hopefully avoiding a milk production drop when moving from last year's corn silage to this year's corn silage.

How can Southern States help?

Southern States can provide assistance throughout the silage lifecycle from planting to feeding. We make recommendations on when to chop the silages, at what length to chop and can point out any management practices that may affect silage quality. Practices we try to help farmers avoid include improper storage, irregular silo faces and poor feedout schedule.

Depending on the desire of the dairy farmer we can sample the silage for testing on a monthly or quarterly basis. Our Feed Sales and Technical Representatives can come to your farm and observe your herd's cud chewing, rumination and body condition. "Southern States understands that corn silage changes over time and we must commit to work with the dairyman on a regular basis," believes Laprade. The result of this partnership is a profitable customer and a healthy, productive dairy cow.


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