Investing in silage harvesting equipment is a major financial commitment. That’s one of the reasons why 50 percent of beef and dairy producers in a recent survey said they relied on custom harvesters to bring in their forages for ensiling.1
A good relationship with a custom harvester requires clear, achievable agreed goals. To meet these objectives, it’s important to open up the lines of communication well before harvest time. Some of the items that should be discussed include:
- Prior to planting, review the acres to be planted, hybrids, field locations, pricing, equipment, personnel and services. There may be adjustments in planting time and hybrid selection that can offer additional flexibility at harvest time. Some producers may find it helpful to include these items in a written contract.
- Define forage quality objectives with both your harvester and nutritionist. This should include specifications for nutritional goals and measurements, e.g. moisture, maturity, particle size, kernel processing and consistency. Who will be responsible for taking forage samples for testing? What are the nutritional goals as defined by the nutritionist?
- Select a forage inoculant that will help meet your quality goals. Including a research-proven inoculant can help prevent dry matter (DM) losses, improve aerobic stability or both.
- Discuss how to repeat successes and avoid problems of years past. This can include how to improve timing and flexibility in the event of weather delays or equipment breakdowns.
- Define who is responsible for proper shaping, packing and covering of the pile, bunker or silo. For best safety management practice, remember to a maximum height below 15 feet and slopes at a minimum 4:1 run-to-rise ratio.
- Review procedures for applying inoculant. Your custom harvester can estimate tons cut per minute and calibrate the inoculant application accordingly. Then, the ensiling team can track the tons of silage harvested versus the packages of inoculant used. This can help ensure the product is being applied according to label directions. In addition, truck drivers can report back weights and adjust inoculant application accordingly.
- Monitor the delivery rate of chopped forage for target packing time, which is ideally two minutes per ton, but should be no less than one minute per ton. Fill and pack in layers no thicker than six inches. This is critical to success!
- After harvest, celebrate successes. It’s too often overlooked when both sides do their job effectively, but a personal touch can cement working relationships for years to come.
A good harvest coupled with good ensiling management practices secures top quality feedstuffs, but it takes a team of people working together to achieve the goal. Getting the team on the same page from the beginning can positively impact the bottom line of any operation.
1 Lallemand Animal Nutrition Silage Inoculant Study. 2015.