Late August and early September, or when the corn fields start turning from green to gold usually marks the start for corn silage season in South Dakota. Chopping corn for silage is a very popular practice, especially among cattle feeders as silage contains high energy nutrients and is easily digestible.
Keys to a good silage crop include early planting, high plant population, narrow rows and a high grain yielding hybrid variety that matures slightly later than average. While some farmers plant certain varieties of corn better suited for silage, cutting hail-damaged or stunted corn is also an option.
Corn silage is ideally harvested when the corn ears are well-dented and the plant begins to turn brown and dry. Silage that is harvested in the milk and dough stages will yield fewer nutrients per acre and may not ferment correctly. Late cut silage that includes brown and dead leaves will produce a quality feed, but will yield as much as 30% less.
As the corn is chopped, the plant is still alive as it continues to breathe producing carbon dioxide and heat. When the plant cells stop breathing, the plant begins to ferment and will continue for around three weeks while the silage preserves. The less air reaching the corn silage the better, as it’s important to properly cover the pile or fill the silo with temperatures between 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Properly packed and heated silage will have a light-green to yellow color with a vinegar type odor.
As of September 11, corn silage harvest in South Dakota was 41% complete. That’s 13% behind last year and 1% ahead of the five year average.