Thinking about silage due to lack of hay reserves on your small farm? Better think again. John Jennings at the University of Arkansas Extension Service explained the enormous up front expense of equipment and learning curve investment involved in a silage operation. Chopping the silage is the key and is not easy. Not only does it have to be chopped at the exact moment, but it has to be “just right” – not too dry and not too wet, but truly at the perfect time to create the best pH balance for making your silage. After you determine that it’s time to cut, then you use your equipment to chop and you then turn to storage, which is another huge adventure. You have to compact it, literally pressing it down in order for the mixture to ferment properly. Any additional moisture or oxygen can spoil the entire batch. You have to then wrap it properly and keep it out of the sun to allow it to ferment, all the while checking the pH levels to ensure that the fermentation process is moving along correctly.
Another option investigated was mixing the silage purchased offsite with existing feed. Jennings said that also requires additional equipment in order to mix it and grind it properly into the other feed. You also have to have significantly larger equipment in order to transport and then again to store and handle the silage properly. He suggested that unless you are dealing with large quantities of high value livestock, cost feasibility would probably make this not an option for the small farmer.
Let’s say then we just plan to purchase silage and feed directly to our livestock, would that option work? Shane Gadberry with the University or Arkansas Extension Service told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor that there are many issues to think about here as well. Producers need to think about whether their equipment can handle typical wrapped bales of silage. Average round bales have been found to weigh around 750 pounds whereas wrapped bales of silage are weighing closer to 1,400 pounds.
Gadberry offers this consideration: “Consider the cost. When purchasing a ton of hay, you are purchasing 200 to 250 pounds of water. When purchasing silage, you are purchasing 1,000 to 1,300 pounds of water per ton, depending on whether it is a grass type silage or corn silage. The silage may appear cheaper per ton, but per ton of dry matter, it may be more expensive.”
Gadberry explained the storage and handling issues and how easy it is for the packing or tape to become damaged or torn and for an entire bale of silage to deteriorate. That’s a significant cost factor to consider. Supplementation is also a factor. Whether you are feeding to lactating or growing cattle, you may need to supplement protein as well.
Gadberry also explained if you are buying calves from the sale barn, they may have never seen silage and getting them to the bunk and eating may be more difficult with corn silage than with high quality grass hay.
Jennings suggested another option. He said small farmers looking for options should look to the eight-step program. Producers are getting their pastures in better shape to get longer grazing seasons in order to use less hay. OFN will provide more information about the 300 grazing day program in the coming months.


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