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Spring 2024 Silage Chopping

The weather is warming up and the grass is growing which can only mean farmers are rushing to their fields to get the 2024 planting season underway. Meanwhile, our spring started a little differently than most in our area! 

This past Monday chopping season officially started and has been pedal to the medal since! Last fall you may have read our blog about Corn Silage Chopping. (If you haven’t we will have it linked for you.) While chopping corn silage is a more broadly known harvest technique, chopping small grain silages (wheat, rye, oats, hay, barley, etc.) in the spring is another option! When thinking of harvesting a small grain like wheat, the mind typically goes to a dry grain harvest where the plant reaches its last growth stage and the grain has matured. When you harvest wheat as a dry grain you harvest with a combine and from there you can make straw out of the stalks that are discarded from that combine. 

Wheat silage chopping is a more time-consuming harvest, but well worth every second! When making wheat silage, you must harvest the crop between the boot and dough growth stages. This stage of plant growth only lasts about a week, so once harvest starts you want to be as fast and efficient as possible. When harvesting a forage, the longer you delay cutting, the higher the yield; however, the quality/nutrition decreases. 

You can think of wheat silage chopping as a mix between making hay and chopping corn. Once wheat reaches the correct growing stage we start mowing it into windrows. Once everything is mowed we allow it to dry to a certain moisture percentage. High-quality forage contains a good moisture-to-dry matter ratio. The second step is to merge the smaller windrows into bigger rows. This produces rows with higher matter volume so the chopper can run more efficiently. Chopping is the third step. The chopper is driven over the top of each windrow and the header picks each row up to be processed through the machine and blown onto the trucks driving next to the chopper. We use a special head on the chopper that allows for windrow pickup. The long forage plant is fed through a set of knives in the chopper then cut it to ⅜” long pieces. This allows for easy digestion of the plant when fed to cattle. Once the trucks are loaded they haul the silage to the trench and unload for the next step to begin. 

Once in the trench, the blade tractor pushes it up and onto the pile. While this is in motion, there is another tractor referred to as a “pack” tractor on the pile which is essentially driving back and forth on the pile. The pack tractor must be heavy, as its goal is to remove as much air from the pile and compact the chopped wheat. This promotes fermentation. The final step is to cover the trench once everything has been harvested. This step prevents oxygen from entering the pile. Silage must ferment, or break down plant fibers, to make it more digestible to the animal. If the silage was exposed to air, then the plant matter would spoil and not be edible to the animals. For more detailed information about each step, watch this video from last spring! 


Now, let's talk about the benefits of chopping small grain silages! First and foremost, it doubles as a fall cover crop and spring forage. As we all know owning a farm comes with some expensive inputs, and planting a crop that can be used for more than one purpose saves money and valuable time. If you choose, most forages can be double or triple cropped. This practice is beneficial as it utilizes the crop more than once and saves money. Small grain silage is often used in unison with corn silage in a TMR (total mixed ration). Post feedstuff provides different nutrients to the cattle. Hay silage is a great roughage source for cattle (feeding a roughage promotes ruminal health and decreases digestive upset) and it is often added to ration to increase the protein concentration if harvested at the right stage. 

Along with the many benefits, there are some disadvantages to small grain silages. Harvest has to happen very quickly for a quality silage to be produced. Spring silage harvest coincides with the planting of other crops like corn and soybeans. This could be a disadvantage because you may not have enough labor to get everything done, or your corn and beans may just end up being planted late. Another disadvantage is silage harvest does require lots of equipment and it may not be economical for your operation. The producer must weigh their options before diving into this practice and having a custom operation near you is very beneficial! 

As I mentioned earlier, our spring always starts with silage chopping. From chopping our crops to custom harvesting other farmer’s crops in our community. From the big picture, chopping is a complex harvest, but it is truly amazing what you can do when everyone works together to accomplish it! I know we say it a lot and we will continue to say it, but thank you to everyone that has or will pitch in on every level to get the job done! 

We are grateful for this past week, and look forward to finishing up spring chopping! 


Olivia, Tabby, Gina, & Kendra

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