Dairy finds silage success is ‘in the bag’

Two high-speed choppers and nine trucks harvest corn from 2,000 acres spread over 85 fields in two counties for Locust Hill Farm at Mannsville, N.Y. With a delivery rate of 200 tons an hour, two packing rollers and one blading tractor struggled to keep pace on the pile, packing 1,200 acres of silage corn.

Dairy finds silage success is ‘in the bag’

Two high-speed choppers and nine trucks harvest corn from 2,000 acres spread over 85 fields in two counties for Locust Hill Farm at Mannsville, N.Y. With a delivery rate of 200 tons an hour, two packing rollers and one blading tractor struggled to keep pace on the pile, packing 1,200 acres of silage corn.

That was in 2012, and one reason farm owners Tim and Renee Alford were looking for ways to advance their operation.

It led them to participate in a fresh silage bunker density testing program with Ron Kuck of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Jefferson County that year and the next.

Kuck adapted a Dairy One Master Forage Probe to top-down sample bunkers at harvest. An online calculator provided immediate density readings to prompt packing adjustments as needed.

Key Points

• Silage density-testing led high-speed harvester to bagging.

• Switching to bagging boosted feed quality and quantity.

• Bagging omitted the need to install a silage leachate system.

Preserving feed quality

“Improving density — the optimal reading is 15 pounds per cubic feet or better — improves fermentation and helps preserve feed quality,” says Kuck.

“Many farms participating in the project made gains by simply adding weight to the packing tractor, adding a second tractor and/or slowing the packers down,” he adds.

With Locust Hill’s harvesting speed, the bunker density testing revealed that the Alfords needed a different solution — a faster way to pack silage.

Corn goes hay route

To keep field equipment working at full-speed and gain silage density and feed quality, they decided to handle corn silage like hay forage.

“We can’t afford to slow our field equipment down to let packers work,” says Tim. “But we still wanted to efficiently put up quality feed without waste. We had success with bagging our hay forage, so we decided to bag corn silage.”

The farm invested in a second ag bagger — one that unloads a 26-ton trailer in three minutes. “Reducing shrinkage loss by even 15% represents a huge gain in terms of feed supply, feed quality and milk production,” he adds.

Quantity with quality

In 2013, the farm bagged 25,225 tons of corn silage and fed out 24,000 tons. “We like the quantity and quality of feed coming out of the bags,” Tim says.

The quality proved itself by contributing to a 5-pound-per-cow gain in milk production in 2013-14, says Renee. “Shrink loss and fermentation quality are definitely better for us with the bags.”

Their decision, as she points out, also was influenced by the fact that bagging doesn’t require a silage leachate system.

Those gains in feed quality and quantity will help set the stage for Locust Hill’s growth. The 1,800-cow dairy plans to add 2,000 cows over the next few years at a second location.

Dunn writes from Mannsville, N.Y.

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REMEDY REVEALED: Tim Alford (left) talks with Derek and Jake Conway about how bagging corn silage allows Locust Hill Farm’s harvest crew to keep working at top speed. The Conways visited to learn more about what bagging of corn silage could do for their dairy operation.

This article published in the December, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

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Photo by Brian P. Whattam

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