Here are seven things to consider when opening a silo of new-crop corn silage to get the most from each ton:
1. Safety: We often hear about winter silage avalanches. Wear your safety vest, slope silages away from you, don’t dwell near the silage face, and tell someone if you will be approaching the face of a silo.
Silages in the “toe” of the pile or bunker, the end of the bag, and the top of a silo typically have poorer density than in the middle of a silo, and therefore can have some microorganisms growing in them that can negatively impact human health. Wear gloves and a mask when handling these silages and wash your hands afterward to avoid silage microbe-related illness.
2. Mycotoxins: Clean-looking silages can be high in mycotoxins if the mycotoxins were produced in the field (as most of them are). Once past the “toe” of a silo, test a representative sample for mycotoxins. Proactively discovering mycotoxins before animals drop in production or reproduction can save money, time, and frustration.
3. Nutrient testing: Submit a representative silage sample to a laboratory. Look at moisture content, pH, NDF-D, uNDF240, fiber kd, starch-D and starch percentage. A good nutritionist can help evaluate silage quality by using a laboratory nutrient test.
4. Kernel processing: Also test for the corn silage processing score (CSPS) to know how much starch is available for rumen bacteria to digest. A good rule of thumb for a CSPS goal is to multiply the dry matter (DM) by two and subtract five. For example, if forage is ensiled at 33% DM, a good CSPS goal is 61%. If the CSPS goal is not attained, discuss with the harvesting team how it can be improved in the upcoming year.
5. Storage time: After the silo is sealed, time is a valuable tool in increasing starch availability. The longer silage is stored, the more available the starch for rumen fermentation and subsequent milk production. Whenever possible, allow for at least three months of carryover.
6. Spoilage: Some spoilage will show up when a new silo is opened. If the spoilage persists, consider the cause of spoilage and how to avoid it in the future. Research-proven oxygen barrier plastic prevents surface spoilage. If spoilage permeates the rest of the silage, consider an L. buchneri-based inoculant.
7. Feeding the new crop: Any abrupt change in the rumen can potentially impact production. Ideally, the transition from old crop to new crop should be done by blending the two silages together. If the new crop has been ensiled less than three months, many nutritionists will consider increasing ground corn and urea levels to account for less starch availability and soluble protein, respectively. This is also one of the most effective times to add yeast and a buffer to the diet to help with rumen stability.
Transitioning between crops can present challenges. However, if done properly, challenges can be minimized for a safe, smooth, and healthy transition for the cows and people.