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Broomsedge indicates a larger problem

Not all weeds are created equal in terms of their impact on forage quality and pasture productivity. Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), a native warm-season perennial grass, is a weed with few, if any, positive attributes other than it slaps you in the face to say soil pH and fertility are likely waning.

Known as an indicator plant, broomsedge most often fills voids left bare by more desirable pasture species. Usually, a soil test of these pastures will reveal either a very low soil pH and/or deficient phosphorus levels.

It’s also possible that a low soil pH is inhibiting phosphorus uptake.

“Cattle will only eat broomsedge for a short time in early spring,” says Dirk Philipp, a forage research scientist with the University of Arkansas. “As such, maintaining adequate phosphorus fertility, soil pH, and having a good pasture management plan is needed to keep broomsedge at bay. The avoidance of overgrazing will help to eliminate or minimize broomsedge issues.”

Philipp also notes that allelopathic chemicals in broomsedge prevent other plants from germinating around them. This enhances its ability to compete with desirable forage species.

Preventing broomsedge from establishing is easier than trying to control it once it does appear. Other than spot spraying with glyphosate, which will also kill other desirable species, there are no good chemical options for broomsedge control.

Researching varieties pays dividends

While it may still be winter, the time to start thinking about spring planting is now. A part of that thinking and planning process is choosing adapted and high-performance forage varieties.

In The Ohio State University (OSU) Ohio Beef Cattle Letter, OSU Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator Christine Gelley discusses what to keep in mind when selecting future forage genetics for your farm or ranch.

Know the difference

Let’s begin with a quick review about the differences between species, varieties, and cultivars.

In plant terms, a species is a plant that is distinctly different from other plants in features and characteristics, meaning that other plants of the same species will share similar characteristics. For example, think red clover versus ladino clover; both are clovers, but two distinctly different species.

A variety is a variation of a plant characteristic that still falls within the range of characteristics of a species. “Think of varieties as species variations that occur in nature without human interaction,” Gelley explains.

While varieties are naturally occurring, humans select for cultivars. These cultivars often bear a trade name that is marketed by the seed company. In spite of the difference between a variety and a cultivar, it remains a common practice for a cultivar to be referred to as a variety.

“By the time you are ready to shop for seed, have your species selected and a few potential cultivars on your list of acceptable choices,” Gelley advises.

Regional requirements

To narrow down your choices even further, look at results of regionally conducted forage variety tests. “If you are farming in Ohio and shopping based on variety performance trials conducted in Tennessee, you may end up unsatisfied with your results,” Gelley explains.

Pay attention to variables in the trial, including total rainfall, soil and air temperatures, soil type, fertilizer and pesticide applications, and the number of years evaluated. Trials that were conducted over the span of several years are typically more trustworthy.

Also consider who is conducting the trials. Many land-grant universities conduct forage trials and are unbiased. Performance trials by seed companies can be reliable, but keep in mind that they are trying to get you to buy their product instead of a competitor’s.

Know the supplier

Once you have a short list of varieties that will fit your farm and needs, shop with a reputable supplier. They should have clean facilities, knowledgeable staff, and good customer service.

“Contact the seed dealer with your cultivar list and have a conversation about what you are looking for and what they can offer,” Gelley recommends. She also advises looking at the seed tags and comparing production dates, germination rates, and the percentage of pure live seed.

“For your best chance at success, do your research before you shop, rather than settling for whatever is in stock at the local co-op,” Gelley says.

Keep records

After selecting, purchasing, and planting your cultivar, keep note of observations you make throughout the year. This includes seeding date, planting rate and depth, weather conditions, germination success or failure, weed pressure, and animal preference.

Perform your own experiment

“If you can’t decide between one cultivar and another, get more than one and start your own on-farm research project,” Gelley suggests.

Plant the cultivars in the same location under similar conditions. As you go through their production cycle, apply the same inputs and harvest the same way all while taking notes and making observations. The results may surprise you.


Be a Good Hay Shopper

When shopping for a new truck, you don’t buy just because the salesman says it’s a good deal. Most shoppers do their research, looking at body style, fuel mileage, towing capabilities, included options and a vehicle history. Shopping for hay should also be carefully researched because making the correct purchase can drastically affect your bottom line. Have you ever met a person that can tell you the value of a truck just by looking at the exterior? Or someone that can tell the quality of hay based on a physical evaluation alone? While a physical evaluation can help us determine several characteristics about the hay, it cannot tell us nutrient content or other potential problems, like nitrates. The only way to know the quality of the hay is by having a forage test done. Knowing the nutritional value of the hay not only helps determine if supplementation is needed, but also will save you money and hopefully avoid any headaches.

Nutrient/Energy Requirement

Knowing what quality of hay you need to purchase all begins with understanding the nutrient requirements for your livestock. Nutrient requirement is the amount of nutrient an animal needs to perform a specific task, or their energy requirement. This is determined by weight, sex, age, growth rate and stage of production. From this we can break down that animal into four nutrient priorities:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Growth
  3. Lactation
  4. Reproduction

The largest shift in nutritional requirement is the transition from pregnant to lactation. Animals fed differently from their nutritional requirements will either lose or gain excess weight. Something else to remember is that the energy requirement for livestock increases during the winter, 1% for every degree under 32°F. Your county extension agent can help you determine your livestock’s nutrient needs.

Forage Testing

A forage analysis is the only way to assess the quality of the hay. The quality of the forage is focused on the value of each pound versus the total of pounds consumed. There is a physical limit to how much livestock can consume. Digestibility is the ability of the livestock to extract the nutrients from the hay. The primary nutrient found in hay are protein, carbs, sugars, pectins and fiber. When purchasing hay, ask for the forage test results. If a forage test has not been performed on the hay, it something you can do yourself through your extension office. For more details on how to take a good hay sample refer to Ray Hicks’s article in this edition of the newsletter.

Reading the Results

After you receive your forage report, there are some numbers that you want to focus on. Always look at the dry matter levels, not as sampled. The dry matter level is best for comparing forages, ration balance and economic value. Most producers go straight for the protein content, but this is Crude Protein and based on nitrogen levels in the sample. So a sample that is high in nitrates can have a high Crude Protein. Protein is important, but many times is overemphasized. The Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) is a measurement of digestible energy. This allows you to compare
forages of the same species and compare them to the needs of the livestock. The Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) predicts the energy base based on fiber quality and intake. RFQ allows for comparisons across forage species. We have also been able to link ranges of RFQ to meet the energy requirements for livestock at different stages. This does not mean that a RFQ at that range will automatically provide all the nutrients needed, but provides us with an approximation if the forage will provide a cost-efficient base.

Nitrates are also important to look at. Nitrates over 4,500 ppm need to be fed at restricted rates. As the nitrate levels increase, so does the restrictions on feed until 18,000 ppm when it is considered lethal.

Storage

Another factor that effects forage quality is storage. Hay bales should be stored to protect from rainfall and weathering. Loss from storage can range from 20%-45%. Before hay is stored it should be properly cured. Round bales should be allowed to dry to 15% moisture and square to 18%. Improper curing of hay can result in fires. The best way for hay to be stored is in a hay shed, but if bales have to be stored outside its best they are orientated north/south, the bales are dense and they are elevated. Net wrapping also distributes moisture better than bales wrapped in twine.

Buy by Weight

Finally yet importantly, consider the weight of a hay bale. Whether you are buying square bales or round, consider buying by weight instead of by bale. Humans are not good at estimating the weight of a bale and usually overestimate the weight. So if you can put some bales on a scale and get a good estimate of the lot weight, see if the producer will sale by weight. It will save you some money in the long run.

Summary

  1. Consider your livestock nutrient requirements
  2. Forage Test
  3. Read and understand results
  4. Compare your forage options
  5. How was the hay stored
  6. Buy by weight (if possible)

Prevent and Prepare For Barn Fires

Although you cannot completely eliminate the risk that there could be a fire in your barn, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk and be more prepared. ( PORK )

Have you ever considered what you would do if you had a barn fire? How would you protect your animals and all the other assets you have in your barn? What could you have done to prevent it? The thought of a fire is very scary. Although you cannot completely eliminate the risk that there could be a fire in your barn, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk and be more prepared.

Tips for reducing the risk of a barn fire

Contact your local fire department to have them do a “checkup” of your barn and offer more recommendations for your individual situation. The University of Kentucky’s “Preventing Barn Fire: Tips for Horse Owners” recommends the following steps in reducing your chances of having a barn fire.

  • No smoking! Bedding and hay can easily be ignited by a person smoking in or around the barn. Enforce a strict no smoking policy in your barn. Post signs inside and outside your barn.
  • Place a fire extinguisher next to each exit, utility box and at roughly 30-40-foot intervals in your barn. Inspect and recharge each extinguisher every year, and use a ABC (general purpose) extinguisher.
  • Clean off cobwebs and pick up loose bailer twine. By making sure your barn is clutter-free, you are helping eliminate ways for fire to spread.
  • Electrical devices need to be professionally installed and encased in conduit. Pay attention during winter months to water tank heaters and heated buckets—they continue to generate heat even if there is no water present, which can cause the plastic to melt and a fire to ignite bedding and hay. If you are using electrical cords, make sure that they are professional grade, inspected often and are not overloaded. Keep lights caged and only use lights that are designed for barn use.
  • If possible, keep hay and bedding stored away from a barn housing animals. If you only have one barn, like many of us, make sure hay has properly cured before storing it in the barn. Check the internal temperature of curing hay by poking a thermometer into the middle of the bale. If the temperature reaches 150 degrees, the hay should be monitored. If it reaches 175 degrees, contact the fire department.
  • Keep tractors, fuel, other petroleum products and machinery away from the barn. Clear any grass, hay, leaves or other combustible materials from equipment before storage.

Tips for being prepared in case there is a barn fire

Mentally prepare yourself so that you can act calmly and safely in the case of a fire. Remember that human safety is the top priority—ensure your own safety and the safety of others before taking care of animals. The University of Kentucky’s “Preventing Barn Fire: Tips for Horse Owners” recommends the following steps for preparing yourself and being ready if a fire does occur in your barn.

  • Identify and designate a safe place for your animals to go if you can get them out of the barn safely. This location should be away from the fire and allows fire crews enough room to do their jobs.
  • Handling equipment such as halters, leads, etc. should be quickly accessible. Consider the materials these items are made of. Remember that plastic and nylon will melt in heat.
  • Talk about the plan with members of your family and any employees you might have so they can also be prepared in an emergency.
  • Mark gates, pens or stalls with reflective tape or glow-in-the dark paint. This will make it easier to see where you are going in the dark.
  • If you are removing animals, start closest to the exit first and handle animals one at a time or by groups if they are herd animals. Always maintain control of the animals to help reduce their stress, which can prevent other injury risks.

If there is a fire, call 911 and get people out of the barn. Only get animals out if you can do so without risking human safety. Follow the directions from the fire department or 911 dispatcher.

No one ever wants to think about the risk of a fire, but it is best to be fully prepared so that you can react fast and appropriately.

Staying Up When the Market is Down

Low milk prices, depressed demand and changing consumer preferences have collectively exerted a heavy toll on the industry and its people. ( freeimages.com )

It’s hard to stay positive through a long stretch of red ink, even in an industry you love. Or, maybe, especially in an industry you love.

Virginia Tech University Professor Emeritus David Kohl has worked with farmers for several decades, and through more than one economic downturn. In a recent video message provided by Compeer Financial, Kohl offered words of encouragement that included the following advice:

  • Surround yourself with positive people. “One of the things I find is that people’s net worth and self-worth often are equated and correlated to the type of people they stay around,” said Kohl. “Do the people with whom you spend most of your time see the cup half empty, or see it half full?”
  • Shut down the social media and TV. Be selective and limited in your use of media, as they often depict extremes. These over-hyped or highly passionate portrayals can be emotionally draining, even if they are extreme examples.
  • Rely on the wisdom of elders. “Sometimes we need to shut down our technology and have a talk with Grandma or Grandpa, or an older person in the community who has been through many of these economic cycles in the ag industry,” advised Kohl. “Their wisdom and philosophy can be reassuring, particularly in these down cycles.”
  • Invest in yourself. Leave the farm for some educational seminars, particularly those outside of agriculture. You are more than your profession – don’t allow your identity as a farmer be the only thing that defines you. Dedicate time for exercise, and take time for reflection as well.
  • Embrace opportunities to serve others. Spending time in service to those less fortunate can provide valuable perspective and help heal your own anxieties. “A friend who recently returned from a mission trip to Guatemala said it was an incredibly uplifting experience,” said Kohl. “There also are many ways to give back right in your local community, especially during the holidays.”

The end of one year and start of another is the perfect time to take a step back and assess business and personal goals, as well as take stock in your blessings that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Potentials for Plant and Other Toxicities in Cattle

While Johnsongrass is a good quality forage, it can be challenging to control in pastures where the perennial, warm-season grass is not desired. Prussic acid production under stress can pose a risk to livestock when grazing Johnsongrass, especially during prolonged droughts or after a frost.
( Dirk Philipp, University of Arkansas )

Fortunately, there has been plenty of rain this year. However, heading into late summer and fall are times of the year to watch out for plant toxicity in cattle.  In some cases, plants can become more toxic during drought and heat stress.  In addition, there is the increased potential for cattle to ingest toxic plants due to lack of other feedstuffs.  There may also be more access to toxic plants.  With droughts come increased weed infestation of pastures, hay and crop fields.   Penned cattle may also be in corrals or drawn to low lying areas that are still green, both of which are where toxic plants are likely to grow.  Differentiating “good” vs. “bad” plants is a learned behavior, so toxicity is more likely in young animals and animals moved to a new location.  A grazing management and supplemental feeding plan is essential to minimize problems.  Veterinarians and producers should be familiar with which plants can cause problems in their area, and try to avoid them.  The following discussion covers some of the plants and situations to watch for during drought situations.  There may be plants that grow some regions that are not covered.

Stressed plants more readily accumulate nitrates and prussic acid (cyanide).  Drought stress can cause both pasture forages and weeds to accumulate toxic amounts of nitrates.  Recently fertilized pastures are also at higher risk.  Plants that have accumulated nitrates remain toxic after baling or ensiling.  Test forages for nitrates to prevent poisoning.  Prussic acid accumulates most often in sorghums, sudans and Johnsongrasses, but these plants can accumulate nitrates also.  There is no test for prussic acid, but it dissipates when plants are baled or ensiled, so harvested forages are safe.  Cattle poisoned by nitrates or prussic acid are usually found dead, so prevention of these toxicities is critical.   Cattle with nitrate toxicity have methemoglobinemia (brown blood) and cattle with prussic acid toxicity have cyanohemoglobinemia (bright, cherry red blood).  Nitrate and prussic acid both interfere with oxygen carrying capacity in the blood, so pregnant cattle surviving these poisonings often abort.

Two of the most toxic plants found in croplands and pastures are coffeeweed and sickle pod.  Cattle will generally not graze the green plant unless other forages are scarce.  However, they will readily eat the seedpods that are dry after a frost.  The plant remains toxic when harvested in hay/balage/silage.   Coffeeweed and sicklepod are toxic to muscles and cause weakness, diarrhea, dark urine, and inability to rise.  There is no specific treatment or antidote, and once animals are down, they rarely recover.

Pigweed or carelessweed is very common in areas where cattle congregate.  Cattle will readily eat the young plants, but avoid the older plants unless forced to eat them.  A common pigweed poisoning is when cattle are penned where pigweed is the predominant plant and no alternative hay or feed is provided.  Red root pigweed is more toxic than spiny root pigweed, but is less common.  Pigweed can accumulate nitrates, so sudden death is the most common outcome.  It also contains oxalates, so renal failure can also occur.

Black nightshade is common in croplands, and like pigweed, in often in high traffic areas.   The green fruit is most toxic, so cattle should not have access to nightshade during this stage, and nightshade remains toxic in harvested forages.  Nightshade is toxic to the nervous and gastrointestinal systems, and causes weakness, depression, diarrhea, and muscle trembling among other signs.  Bullnettle and horsenettle are in the same plant family as nightshade.  They are also toxic, although less so, and are usually avoided by livestock unless other forages are not available.

Blue-green algae blooms in ponds can also occur in hot weather.  They are most common in ponds with high organic matter, such as ponds where cattle are allowed to wade, or where fertilizer runoff occurs.  The blue-green algae accumulates along pond edges, especially in windy conditions, and exposes cattle when they drink.  Both the live and dead algae are toxic.  The toxins can affect the neurologic system causing convulsions and death, sometimes right next to the source.  They can also affect the liver, causing a delayed syndrome of weight loss, and photosensitization (skin peeling in sparsely haired or white haired areas).

Perilla mint causes acute bovine pulmonary edema and emphysema (ABPE), usually in late summer.  It grows in most of the central and eastern United States and is common in partial shade in sparsely wooded areas, and around barns and corrals.   There is no treatment, so prevention is critical.

Cattle with access to wooded areas may eat bracken fern.  Cattle must eat roughly their body weight over time before toxicity occurs, but may do this in situations where other forage is not available. Braken fern toxicosis causes aplastic anemia.  Fever, anemia, hematuria, and secondary infections are some of the most common signs.

As summer moves into fall, the potential for acorn toxicosis increases.  Cattle have to eat large amounts usually to become sick, but those that are in poor body condition and hungry are more likely to do so.  Clinical signs include constipation or dark, foul-smelling diarrhea, dark nasal discharge, depression, weakness and weight loss.

The lack of summer forages and the need for supplemental feeding during a drought can increase the likelihood of feeding “accidents” and toxicities.  Producers may be tempted to feed cattle pruning’s of ornamental plants, many of which are highly toxic.  Grain overload is also a potential problem if access to concentrate feeds are not controlled.  Salt toxicity can occur if hungry cattle are allowed free access to high salt containing “hotmixes”.  Even though these are meant to limit intake, initial intake can be high enough to cause toxicity in starved or salt deprived cattle.  Feeding byproduct feeds, candy, bread, screenings, etc. may also be more common, all of which have the potential to cause problems.  Producers may also be tempted to feed moldy hay or feed, which can lead to toxicity problems.

With careful planning, plant toxicities can be avoided. If you have questions on toxic plants and how to identify/avoid them, please contact your local veterinarian or Extension agent. If you have further questions please feel free to contact me at, lstrick5@utk.edu, or 865-974-3538.

Moisture the Critical Component to Good Silage

One of the most important steps to make good silage is to cut it at the proper moisture level. The optimum moisture range for cutting corn and making silage is between 60-70% moisture (30-40% dry matter). Given the genetics of today’s corn varieties, utilization of the old relationship between the milk line and plant moisture content may not always be accurate.

An easy, quick and relatively inexpensive method to determine the actual moisture content of the whole corn plant is using a microwave oven. One additional advantage is that it takes typically less than 20 minutes to run the test.

So what equipment will you need to facilitate the moisture test?

  • Microwave, with a turntable (preferably). Your wife or significant other will appreciate you NOT using the kitchen microwave or doing this in the house kitchen, as it does produce an unpleasant odor. It is thus recommend to have a microwave in the shop or barn to run the moisture test.
  • Scale, one that weighs in grams is best.
  • Container, something that is microwave safe such as paper plate, paper boat, or a glass or plastic dish.
  • Water – 8 oz glass to protect the microwave oven
  • Paper & Pencil to record weights
  • Calculator

Next you need to collect a sample. Collect at random 10-20 plants throughout the field. You will need to chop these plants and this can be done by either shredding them in a brush chopper/branch shredder or by running them through your chopper. Please keep in mind that this can be a very dangerous process and care should be taken when doing this. The other option is to chop test areas in your field. Then take random grab samples from the green chopped silage. You should have about 2 gallons worth of product to mix and collect your test sample from. Once you have collected a representative sample you can start the process to run the moisture test.

Follow these steps to determine the moisture content of your corn silage or forage. Please note that this method can also be used to determine moisture content in any other forage.

Microwave Moisture Testing of Forages

  1. Take your gram scale and weigh the container you will use to hold the sample. This weight is known as Value A.
  2. Mix your sample and place about 100 grams in the container. Collect the total weight of the container and wet sample, record the weight as Value B.
  3. Put an 8oz. glass of water in the corner of the oven.
  4. Put the container with the sample in the microwave oven. Using a medium to high heat setting start drying the sample, starting with approximately 3-4 minutes if you suspect the sample is above 35% moisture.
  5. Remove the container and sample, weigh them, and record the weight. It should weigh less than the Value B that you initially recorded.
  6. Gently stir the sample and place back in the microwave.
  7. Reheat the sample again for another 30 seconds. Remove, reweight, and record the weight. You should continue this process, recording the weight every time. (You will need to be careful not to char or burn the sample. If you do, then either start over or take the previous recorded weight prior to charring the sample. You do not want your sample to be charred, so a hint is to go in time increments of less than 30 seconds once you feel your sample is getting close to dry.)
  8. Once you have two continuous weights that are equal, the sample is considered dry. Record this final weight as Value C.

Lastly you will need to calculate the percent moisture using the following formula:

  • Value A = weight of container
  • Value B = weight of container + initial wet sample weight
  • Value C = weight of container + dry sample weight

%Moisture = B - C divided by B - A times 100

Producers need to remember that if the silage is too wet there is a risk of butyric acid forming and nutrients being lost due to seepage. Silage that is over 70% moisture should not be harvested and should stand in the field for a few more days. On the other hand if it is too dry it will not ferment or pack adequately resulting in mold development. You may then need to add water to get an adequate pack and fermentation process. Therefore, having an accurate determination of what your corn silage moisture is running is critical in putting up good silage in a timely manner.

Corn Silage Maturing Fast

Corn plants can lose more than two points of moisture on hot, windy days. ( Farm Journal, Inc. )

With plenty of moisture and lots of sunshine in much of the upper Midwest, corn silage is rapidly maturing.

Now is the time to aggressively monitor crop maturity and plant dry matter, says John Goeser, animal nutrition, research and innovation director for Rock River Laboratory in Watertown, Wis. Although ideal dry matter will vary with silage storage type, the general guideline is to shoot for 35% dry matter (65% moisture.

“The opportunity for failure, or for challenges to arise, is far greater when we aim for dryer and more mature thresholds,” says Goeser. “[Corn silage] will be harder to pack at those dryer levels. If we experience a dry spell with 80° F days and wind for a week, corn can go from drying out a point a day to losing several points of dry matter per day.”

That can lead to a “fluffier” crop with kernels harder to process, he says. “Realizing that chopping can take some time, it’s best to begin harvest just before you reach the dry-matter target,” he says. “Continue chopping beyond the target and realize an average dry matter this is right around the ideal level.”

Goeser also recommends:

Consider high cutting. “Many areas experienced plenty of heat and moisture early in the growing season this year, so I’m forecasting fiber digestibility and stover characteristics to be more ‘woody’ this years,” says Goeser. “These characteristics can be varied with cutting height.”

He recommends a simple on-farm experiment when kernels reach the half-milk line. Cut three or four stalks at normal height, another set of stalks at 12 to 14” and a third set at 18 to 20”. Chop these stalks and then submit the samples for neutral detergent fiber digestibility analysis. The results should tell you which cutting height will provide optimal feed.

Utilize kernel processing scores (KPS) throughout harvest. “It’s one thing to have your equipment ready for the season, but changes happen in equipment and crop status which affects KPS,” he says. So monitor KPS daily or every couple of days.

“Understand that the KPS benchmark is lower for unfermented, fresh chop whole plant corn relative to what it will be six months into fermentation,” he says. The fresh chopped corn KPS goal is 60 to 65, while fermented corn silage should be 75 or better, he says.

Use free app to monitor crop conditions in your area. Rock River Lab is providing a free, crowd-sourced phone app called InField Updates that reports dry matter, NDF and starch statistics on a map. This data can be used to track crop progress in your area. Download the FeedScan app and click on “InField Updates” to try out this tool.

Time to Plan for Corn Silage Harvest

( Sponsored Content )

Now is the time to start thinking about and planning for corn silage harvest. Preparations taken now and close attention to details like moisture content can mean higher-quality silage when you peel back the plastic months from now.

One of the most important factors influencing corn silage quality is moisture content at time of harvest. Ideally, corn silage should be harvested at the moisture content appropriate for the type of silo used. Recommended moisture contents are 65-70 percent for horizontal silos, 63-68 percent for conventional tower silos, 55-60 percent for limited-oxygen silos and 65 percent for silo bags, writes Jud Heinrichs, professor of dairy science and Gregory W. Roth, Ph.D., professor of agronomy, both with Penn State.

Crop dry matter yields are maximized near 65 percent moisture (Table 3) and losses during feeding, storage and harvesting are minimized. Delaying harvest can reduce both the fiber and starch digestibility as the stover gets more lignified and the overmature kernels become harder and less digestible if left unbroken after ensiling.

Table 3. Corn silage yield and quality as influenced by growth stage.

Corn Silage

Silage moisture at harvest is not difficult to determine and should be monitored, if possible, to prevent harvesting of the crop outside of the desired moisture range. A commercial forage moisture tester or a microwave oven can be used to determine the moisture content fairly rapidly. If silage moisture is above ideal levels, then harvest should be delayed if possible.

Corn that is ensiled extremely wet will ferment poorly and lose nutrients by seepage, which also has potential to damage the silo and if not contained, contaminate local water supplies. Silage that is too dry may result in poorly packed material, causing more mold and spoilage due to air trapped in the silage. In dry, overmature corn silage, the stover portion of the plant is less digestible and contains lower amounts of sugars and vitamin A.

Moisture content cannot be determined accurately using the kernel milkline, because of variations due to weather and hybrids. Moisture content should be measured rather than estimated.

One strategy for timing corn silage harvest is to chop a sample at the full dent stage, just as the milkline appears, and determine the moisture content. Then estimate the harvest date by using a typical drydown rate of 0.50 to 0.75 percentage units per day.

Harvest considerations should also focus on obtaining the correct particle size distribution and the need to process the crop. Processing silage refers to putting the chopped material between two rollers that are installed in the harvester to crush the harvested material as it passes through. Kernel processing units are becoming more popular on corn silage harvesters in Pennsylvania. Kernel processing has the advantage of crushing cob slices and kernels and can increase the starch availability by about 10 percent in the silage. The current data shows no clear nutritional advantage to processing silage unless it is overly mature with hard kernels. In some cases, this has resulted in increased milk production compared to unprocessed silage. A good general recommendation for the theoretical length of cut for processed silage is 3/4 inch with a 1-2 mm roller clearance.

Kennel Processing

Figure 1. The Penn State Particle Size Separator can be used to monitor silage particle size.

Corn DistributionFor unprocessed silage, an average theoretical length of cut should range from 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch. Particle size of corn silage should be monitored during harvesting because it can change as crop moisture content varies. The Penn State Particle Size Separator can be used to estimate the particle size distributions for harvested corn silage.

Table 4. General recommendations for corn silage particle size distributions on the three sieves and bottom pan in the Penn State Particle Size Separator.

Once harvesting has begun, fill the silo as rapidly as possible and continue until it is filled. Continue to evaluate processed corn throughout the harvest season. Kernels should be broken into multiple pieces and cobs should be broken into thumbnail-sized pieces or less. As the crop matures after half milkline, it may be desirable to have more kernel breakage so that much of the grain is in the bottom pan of the particle size separator.

The most desirable method of packing bunker silos is the progressive wedge method, where silage is continually packed on a 30-40 percent grade. This minimizes the surface area exposed to the air that can result in DM and forage quality losses. If this is not possible, the silos should be packed by spreading relatively thin layers of silage (6 inches deep) and packing it well. If packed well, the density of the silage should be about 14 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot.

Bunker Silos

Figure 2. Technique for ensiling forage in bunker silos.

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First Cutting in Alfalfa: Why Cutting Management is Important?

First cutting is the most important and critical of the alfalfa growing season. A late start of this growing season will determine multiple things during this year’s production. It is important to know that the success of the entire production will be based in determining a proper date to cut for highest yield and quality. As rule of thumb, forage quality varies with the environment and cutting management. If you are forced to delay the first cutting due to environmental conditions (rain or even drought), keep in mind that this could have negative consequences with a slower regrowth and perhaps a reduction in future yield production.

First cutting tends to have low quality if it is cut late during the growing season. Generally, during pre-bloom or bud stage the stems are highly digestible with high quality forage. Second and third cuttings still very important for production, however if there is a need to wait to harvest beyond the bud stage then the more the quality would suffer because of lower proportion of leaf and stem ratio. Below are some guidelines in plant height and harvest maturity in alfalfa. Producers should take this into consideration for future management and cutting strategies.

Table 1. Plant height and harvest maturity in alfalfa.

Cutting Schedule Plant Height (inches) Maturity Stage
First Cutting 32 Late vegetative to early bud
Second Cutting 23 Late bud to early flower
Third Cutting 19 Early to late flower
Fourth Cutting 16 Late flower

Source: Professor Marisol Berti; North Dakota State University for Midwest Forage Association (Forage Focus; May 2018).

Summary

Each growing season brings new challenges. It is important to plan ahead and be ready to make the best decisions. Oftentimes, compromising forage quality to avoid plant stress is one way to harvest a little later than expected. It all varies depending on climate and other factors such as: stand health, age of the stand, history of winter injury and winter kill, previous cutting management, soil tests, insect and disease problems.