Dragging it across the dirt for three days before giving up and chopping it wet anyway is not how you make high-quality forage.

Tons of silage/acre to get dry

On the plus side, very high sugar levels – 20 percent dry matter (DM) basis – from greatly reduced night respiration when temperature drops into the 40s and 30s in the fall creates a paradox in that the crop is harder to dry but easier to ferment.

Wide swathing (greater than 80 percent of cutter bar) is critical to remove moisture.

After three to four hours of drying, we have found that it helps to tedd the crop. A word of caution: This is not your half-ton-per-acre third-cutting alfalfa.

The crop is four to seven times heavier. You need to slow down your ground speed with the tedder for two reasons.


First, you will destroy the tedder moving that much material through too fast. Second, instead of loosening and spreading, you are making compacted tedder balls.

This is where the tine grabs too much and then compacts it like a snowball and chucks it out the back. They are hard to see unless you get off the tractor and check what you are really doing.

For those chopping, you may want to increase the length of cut on some of these wet, very highly digestible crops in order to maintain effective fiber while reducing the number of cut cells that could produce excessive leachate (which carries away the sugar).

For those round baling, I suggest testing a couple of bales, as they will be much heavier than you are used to making.

It is embarrassing to make your normal-size round bale and then discover the tractor cannot pick them up. Round bales must be wrapped the day they are baled.

The most critical step we have come across was developed from some excellent work that Dr. Limin Kung conducted in Delaware out of our wide-swath haylage-in-a-day system for alfalfa.

He found that a more critical factor than moisture at harvest is to not mow and leave it overnight – that includes chopped and in the wagon overnight.

Dr. Kurt Cotanch reported in a Miner Institute newsletter: Dr. Kung shared some data looking at various products where he ensiled 25 to 27 percent DM ryelage in mini-silos, either immediately ensiled or chopped and left in the wagon for 12 hours after mowing.

All test product and control samples had similar pH of about 4.6, with varying levels of lactic and acetic acids, 0 percent butyric acid and 0.34 percent NH3 (ammonia) on a DM basis after 90 days of ensiling.

Under the 12-hour delayed (next day) before-ensiling condition, pHs ranged from 5.82 to 6.42, butyric ranged from 0.12 to 0.22 percent with NH3 0.90 to 1.04 percent across delayed treatments after 90 days of ensiling.

Dr. Kung mentioned another study he conducted with alfalfa at less than 20 percent DM and checked after 60 days of ensiling; there was no butyric acid for the forage immediately ensiled.

For the forage that was in the wagon for 12 hours before ensiling, the levels of butyric acid levels ranged from 2.05 to 3.13 percent of DM, NH3 ranged from 0.97 to 1.10 percent of DM and lactic acid was 0 percent across all treatments.

Dr. Kung said the reason is that “delayed filling of cut/chopped material results in oxidation and utilization of fermentable sugars.

If this results in a destruction of most of the fermentable sugars, then the good bacteria have no food to make lactic acid when conditions finally go anaerobic.

“The result is that clostridia dominate the fermentation process resulting in large losses of DM, high concentrations of butyric acid and extensive protein breakdown (thus the high NH3-N).

If there are insufficient fermentable sugars, even adding a homolactic acid bacterial inoculant or buffered propionic acid will be of little benefit.”

Bottom line: Leave it overnight in the field and you will have wet, smelly slop. Ensile it the same day you mowed it, add the correct inoculant at the chopper/baler/bagger and you can have very high-quality, correctly fermented forage even with higher moisture levels in the silage.

Over the past couple of seasons we have had more field experience (triticale winter forage, BMR sorghum specis and fall oats) wide-swathed and ensiled the same day it was mowed. Using an inoculant, they got complete fermentation with no butyric formation from this very wet feed.

What inoculant? Dr. Kung suggests “good straight homolactic acid-type products to bring the pH down fast and actually limit some of the excessive wild acetic that is made.”

He is not recommending the L. buchneri types for these wet crops. L. buchneri is better suited for crops like HMC, snaplage, corn silage, high-DM alfalfa silage and crops that are challenged with aerobic stability.

There is a model for feeding this type of forage: grazed pastures.

Dr. Larry Chase at Cornell said, “The main concern with most wet forages is the generally high levels of fermentation acids produced and their negative effect on intake. This can occur even in wet silages (like corn silage) that have low levels of butyric acid. Butyric acid just makes it worse.

“In terms of sugar, the critical value is the one after fermentation. Dairy cows can consume high levels of wet, high-quality pasture. Thus, it is not the water per se that may limit intake of wet fermented forages. It’s more of a fermentation quality issue.

“In terms of ration, the approach used in developing pasture rations could be a model. With high-quality pasture, we can lower grain feeding to reflect the higher energy and the ability to grow more rumen bugs. The cows are able to consume higher levels of NDF from forage since fiber digestibility is higher.

“Unless there is a funny fermentation, I think we would just consider this a high-quality forage and balance accordingly. Forage analyses should include fermentation parameters, sugar, NDF, lignin and NDFD, CP, soluble CP, etc.”

This concept is a work in progress but has a sound basis in how Europeans make silage – it is all same-day haylage. Dr. Chase and I are both very interested in seeing a copy of the forage analysis with the fermentation parameters for these wet, same-day ensiled forage.

The bottom line: If you can get the crop to 35 percent DM the same day it is mowed, then you are hauling a lot less water. If you get to the end of the day and the fall oats, winter triticale, sorghum sp., are not quite dry enough, we suggest it is better to put it in on the wetter side than to wait until the next day.  FG

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Thomas Kilcer
Certified Crop Adviser
Advanced Ag Systems