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Corn Silage Chopping

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Now that the dust has settled, and the chopper is washed and sitting in the barn we can talk all things corn silage chopping. When we take the chopper out, harvest starts a lot earlier than the combines harvesting dry grains (corn and soybeans). This is because the chopper cuts up the entire corn stalk and we use the green corn stalks and kernels to feed cows. The best performing corn silage is harvested when the entire plant is between 32-38% dry matter. What does dry matter mean? Dry matter is “the part of a foodstuff or other substance which would remain if all its water content was removed.” This is important when making TMR (total mixed ration) for cattle because we want to make sure the nutrients are correct when mixing the feed. If the water content in the silage is too high the animals will get less nutrients per pound of feed and vice versa. The moisture of silage is also important for fermentation (more on this below). So, because of the importance of moisture, we started corn silage harvest in late August.

Part of our farm's work is to perform custom silage chopping for area farmers. Depending on the farm we are at and the resources they have, we will use the chopper, a tractor with a blade to push silage, and a combination of 4 trucks to haul the silage. There are a lot of moving parts to silage harvest and keeping them all functionally running and operating is no small task. Before harvest could start all the equipment needed to be maintained/ fixed from the spring hay silage season and we (Bryan) had to build a new silage truck to add to the group. We are very thankful to have several seasoned mechanics helping us to make sure the equipment is ready for harvest! But, as the season always goes, we were down right to the wire to get everything ready and working!

The silage chopping process is fast paced. All parts have to be moving together to make it an efficient process. This all starts with the chopper. The chopper is a machine that will cut the corn stalks off the base and move the entire plant through the feed rolls to the cutter knives. The cutter knives cut the plant into small pieces (½ to ¾” is typical). Following the cutter knives is a kernel processor or a.k.a. the KP. This piece of the chopper is extremely important to the digestive nature of the corn kernels. The cut up corn, cobs, stalk, and leaves will be pushed through two rollers spread 2 mm apart with small teeth that match up like gears to pulverize each individual corn kernel. The breaking up of the corn kernels will help them be more digestible as the end product. Following the push through the KP, the processed silage moves to the blower and out the spout into a truck driving alongside the chopper.

The chopper fills up the trucks and they deliver it to the silage pile. The trucks dump the silage and the tractor and blade begins to push the silage on a pile. The pushing and packing of silage on the pile is also very important to how the silage will ferment and store for the year. The tractors will drive up and down the pile packing the silage down tight and removing all the oxygen. The bigger the pile gets, the more equipment is needed to push and pack down the silage in an efficient manner as the trucks are coming to dump non-stop throughout the day.

The fermentation process is important to the success of a silage pile. The packing down of the silage removes oxygen, and when the pile is finished and covered with plastic a anaerobic (non-oxygen) environment is created. There are natural anaerobic bacteria that consume the carbohydrates in the silage breaking it down and producing acid. This process will continue until enough acid is produced that these bacteria can no longer survive. When this happens, which usually takes 3 weeks, the silage is fully fermented and ready to feed to the cows.

After we finished a job we moved on to the next. Throughout the end of August and month of September we helped 10 farms including ours to harvest silage. The work is very long and taxing but extremely worthwhile to provide a service for farmers in our community. After the long days we always try to have a hot crockpot meal for all of our help to enjoy before going home. The meals are not extravagant, but they are hot, full of protein, and we have cold drinks! Our meat products have really been a lifesaver during this harvest time because they are easy to make. So, we have put together our harvest field meal box with all our favorites! If you would like to try it out, use code harvest23 to get 15% off our specialty box! Happy harvest or any busy season and we hope you enjoy it!


Olivia, Tabby, Gina, & Kendra

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