This summer, local farmers took advantage of the early spring and then the warm weather to harvest first-cut hay and haylage in a very timely fashion. However, the dry weather later in the summer reduced yields of subsequent harvests.
Corn silage is similarly harvested and ensiled, most commonly in the huge mounds that are created by piling and packing with large tractors. Most of our area corn is harvested by chopping the entire corn plant, leaving the familiar fields of short stubble. Large wagons or trucks deliver the chopped corn to the farm where it is blown up into silos, packed into long plastic tubes or more commonly piled and packed into bunk silos or mounds.
After packing, the plastic excludes the oxygen and the old tires keep the plastic from blowing away in the wind. Corn silage is popular forage for dairy cattle because it is high in energy and palatability and complements the higher protein alfalfa haylage in a balanced dairy ration. While the slightly pungent, vinegar smell of corn silage may not smell appetizing to you, cows love corn silage and it is a crucial part of most dairy farms’ feeding program.
Some farmers are already starting to harvest corn for silage since August’s hot, dry weather has accelerated the drying down of the corn. Since silage requires moisture to ferment, corn that is too dry will not have the same quality or produce as much milk. Fortunately, our region was spared the worst of the drought.
Since our North Country growing season is short, dairy farmers depend on these stored feeds to maintain consistent milk production. By timely harvesting and proper ensiling of forages, cows can be fed a consistent diet year round. And while today’s cows are less often pastured outside, the forages that are ensiled and fed inside are often more palatable and of higher quality than could be obtained in the more traditional grazing scenario.
The good old days of summer pasture usually ended up providing forage of low quality, low quantity and resulted in low milk production. In today’s modern dairy farming, the high-quality stored forages result in ever better diets and increasing milk production.
Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450, fax 561-0183 or email Phh7@cornell.edu.