SEDALIA, Mo. – While it is still too soon to sound the alarm on “drought,” parts of the state are becoming severely dry, said University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Gene Schmitz.

How this may affect the corn crop is still to be determined. “It’s not out of the question, if dry weather continues, that some corn will be chopped or baled for silage,” Schmitz said. “Being proactive and thinking through this process a little bit can be the difference between a high-quality feed and garbage.”

The first piece of the puzzle is to get the moisture right. “The target is 65% to 70% moisture for trench or bunker silos,” he said. “Bagged silage can be a bit drier, with recommended moisture between 60% and 70%. If harvested too wet, there will be excess seepage and nutrient loss and a poor-quality fermentation that may result in spoiled or refused feed. If harvested too dry, it is very difficult to pack, and excess loss due to spoilage and mold growth can be expected.”

Oxygen is the enemy of silage, Schmitz said. Therefore, by getting the moisture right, the pile can be adequately packed.

“I think it is almost impossible to overpack a pile or bunker of silage,” he said. “By creating an anaerobic environment, the appropriate microbes can do their thing by producing organic acids to quickly drop pH and stabilize the silage pile.”

Bunkers and piles should be covered with plastic as soon as possible. This prevents excess top spoilage and conserves feed quality. Make sure water will run off the outside of the silo or pile and not run down between the silo wall and the silage. If bagging, patch holes as soon as they are found. Again, the goal is to exclude oxygen.

Some producers will try to set up a “silo” using round hay bales for the sides and end, but Schmitz said it is extremely difficult and dangerous to pack the silage properly in such a setup because it can lead to improperly fermented silage and moldy, low-quality feed with high waste potential.

If salvaging a drought-damaged crop, corn can be baled and wrapped. This does come with its own set of issues. First is trying to make sure the bale is tight enough to exclude oxygen. “This can be especially problematic if there are ears on the stalks,” Schmitz said.

Second, because the stalks are not chopped, there can be a lot of waste when feeding bales, he said. Feeding also needs to be thought through, especially if feeding in hay rings. Corn silage bales are not something to full feed due to the high energy content relative to most livestock needs. For mature beef cows, a ration of 30% to 50% corn silage and 50% to 70% grass hay seems to be in the general ballpark to meet nutritional needs, Schmitz said. “Limit-feeding round silage bales is an interesting dilemma without many good options.”

Drought silage may contain high levels of nitrates. One way to partly deal with that is to raise the cutting height of the chopper or swather. Nitrates accumulate in the lower stem bases first. Some nitrate will be lost during the ensiling process, but additional nitrate can simply be left standing in the field.

“Having plans will help salvage a crop by producing a high-quality feed rather than having to cobble something together on the spur of the moment and winding up with a moldy mess,” Schmitz said.

If you have questions, contact Schmitz at or call MU Extension in Pettis County at 660-827-0591.

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