Corn Silage Harvest – It’s a Team Sport
There, beyond the free stall barn of content Holsteins munching on last year’s crop, I begin to hear a familiar sound. A kind of metal clinking, engine humming, and corn stalks whirring and crunching as the chopper works through the field and his ever constant companion of a wagon or truck works to keep up. Silage chopping is a team sport – in this case the whole family is working to get feed put away for their herd for the next year. I can sense the urgency in the air as I am warmly greeted on to the farm. One of the two brothers, Mike, met me and we chatted quickly about why I was there. But I knew I was not very high on the priority list for today – Corn silage was top priority today. At Aspirin Acres I am sure when each of them woke up this morning that is exactly what they thought. So after the cows were checked, fed, milked and moved; the heifers and calves were fed; machines were fixed, all the people were rounded up…finally they can start in the field. Mike pointed over the hill to the next field where his son Joe was chopping and his wife and younger son were running wagons and invited me to ride in the chopper; this man had some bunker packing to do today and I am slowing him down. I had never been in a self-propelled chopper before, and I thanked my lucky stars I don’t have motion sickness. Joe and I chatted in the cab about the crop this year and how their silage was two weeks behind last. We also talked about how they work with their agronomist and nutritionist to make a plan from seed to feed.
Jacob Miller, Landmark Agronomist and Rio Location manager was good enough to introduce me to the Benish family and work with me to tell me how an agronomist is involved in the silage process. He said that “an agronomist starts to set the stage for chopping in January when he works to select hybrids to plant.” This is when you ask the questions like: How much starch are you looking for? How many acres did you plant last year? Was that many acres right for your silage needs? Should we use a multipurpose hybrid on some for you to have some flexibility with your grain acres? Asking the right questions will put you on track for a successful season.
Jacob is excellent at placement and you can tell his knowledge is highly valued on farm. He helps to create a plan with the grower so that you have a pretty good idea what field will need to be harvested first. A great way to spread out your silage season is to use multiple maturity hybrids. That way you can have a greater window of opportunity for when you corn will be ready to chop.
Jim Stelse introduced me to the Animal Nutrition
world of silage…and all the acronyms that come with. We talked about CCP (Critical Control Points), DM (Dry Matter), NIR (Near Inferred) Gun for checking moisture, TLOC (Total Length of Cut), KPS (Kernel Processing)…I really could go on and on. You should see all the tools and testing equipment that an animal nutritionist carries on the farm! It’s quite the carload. Animal nutritionist use these “on farm tools”, along with lab testing to help make decisions like increasing the kernel processing, moisture and nutrition needs of the animal.
For an animal nutritionist getting the highest forage quality is very important. Jim uses CCP to have a guide for his growers to go through the season with a plan for success. The CCP includes decision making as to when the harvest of the silage starts or is altered. When determining when to start silage, a number of factors go into this decision making- such as finding a maturity optimization for yield quantity and quality. The silage harvest season is very highly influenced by moisture. This makes the window for harvesting very narrow and can make for a stressful event. During the chopping season conditions change, but you have control over a few things…and weather is certainly not one! If your chopper is equipped with a kernel processor, you can alter processed taking into consideration their moisture and starches. Use a shaker box to see length of cut and how the plant in processing. Another way to insure you are working for the best forage is to have excellent packing and then seal it. In silage oxygen is the enemy. A bunker must be packed to protect the feed from spoiling and to increase storage.
I also asked with Matt Solymossy from our Safety Manager about silage gas safety. He warned “Silo Gas is very dangerous gas made up of primarily Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen Dioxide that are released during the early stages of the fermentation process. Silo gas hazards exist anytime farmers or employees enter silo storage structures, but there is increased risk in the days immediately following filling the silo. Silo gas can typically be detected by its bleach like odor and faint red or yellow haze. Never enter a silo if you detect the presence of silo gas.”
No one would argue the fact that dairy farmers are hard workers, but to think that they work to get the everyday chores done- then get to the field to chop between chores (which itself is a full time job).
I think it is good to remind ourselves and others that farming can be very dangerous…especially during silage season. As I left Aspirin Acres and I watched the wagons coming and going to the bunker area, I was reminded of all those familiar yellow signs on the road portraying a tractor and a farmer. Having so much farm equipment frequenting the road during silage season working feverishly to get a job done is stressful enough, having another person on the farm, I know from experience can make you very nervous. So I want to extend a sincere thanks to the Benish Family of Aspirin Acres for allowing me onto their farm. Whether you are packing a bunker, filling a bag or blowing it up a silo have a safe productive silage season! Thank you!