December 15th, 2021

The most common silage in the U.S. is corn silage.


Today’s blog is by Gayl Southard, VP of Administration at SafeSourcing.

On a cross country drive, we passed by white piles of tires along the highway.  I wondered what they could be.  It turns out they are silage piles. It’s easy to forget that grass only grows during certain times of the year.  In the winter it is too wet, rainy, or snowy to grow grass, while in the middle of summer, grass will die if not irrigated by man.  How can you create a food supply for the cows so you can feed your cows daily?  How do you store feed all year?  This feed storage problem has been around for farmers throughout time.  A cow will eat over 100 lbs. of feed per day; how do you store enough food for her during those months with less grass.

Farmers today grow feed during the growing season and store it in large piles. The grass is cut, put into a pile, then is compacted, and covered with plastic to protect it from oxygen and the elements. The plastic covering removes oxygen from the pile so the grass can ferment naturally with microbiological bacteria. Oxygen allows spoilage, but the absence of oxygen allows anaerobic bacteria to ferment the feed and prevent spoilage. The fermentation of the grass allows storage for 1-2 years (or more) without any refrigeration.  Fermentation usually improves the digestibility of foods and helps keep your guts microflora healthy.  Making silage is not a new invention. The tradition can be traced to farmers in Germany.  American farmers didn’t start the practice until 1876. From then, many farmers started using these methods to preserve feed for their cows.  The grass is harvested and put into a pile; the tractor compresses the feed pile to eliminate oxygen

Why cover the piles with tires. Most people use tires because they offer good weight, they are easy to move, and take off. They offer enough weight to compress the pile and keep the cover on.  The grass pile is covered with the tarp and tires to keep out oxygen which allows anaerobic fermentation of the feed just other fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi.  The fermentation process actually improves the quality of feed for the cows. The pile is carved off and fed to the cows as needed, the feed has a shelf life for 1-2 years (or more) without any refrigeration.  Much of the grass cows are eating is made of cellulose and hemicellulose, the fibrous components of grass that people cannot digest. When a cow eats grass, it first must be fermented by bacteria in one of her stomachs called the rumen. The fermentation of the silage pile is the same type of fermentation that happens in the cow’s rumen. The silage is actually predigested for the cow and makes it easier for her digestive system.

The most common silage in the U.S. is corn silage. Corn is really just a very tall grass.  Compare a corn plant to a wheat plant; they look nearly the same only corn is a much larger plant. The entire plant is harvested, shredded, and put into a pile. The entire plant can be eaten by the cow including the grain. The corn kernels have starch for energy and the stalk has plenty of fiber.  Corn is also environmentally friendly because of the amount you can grow per acre. Less land and other natural resources are needed to grow feed. A corn stalk will grow up to ten feet tall so on a per acre basis you get much more feed. If you grew other grasses, you would need more land.

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Diary Moos, The Dairy Guy, 11/26/2016

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