Editor’s note: The following is part one of a two-part series that will help you to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of silage production across Canada.
Hay is a major forage source over the winter-feeding season in the cow/calf sector, but an increasing number of producers are considering silage if they aren’t already using it.
According to the 2016/17 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey, most respondents practiced some type of extensive feeding method, such as in-field feeding, for most of the winter. While all respondents used rolled bales (baled hay or straw) as part of their feeding program, about 30% also used other winter-feeding methods and materials including silage and chopped hay with a bale processor. In the east, the 2015/16 Ontario Cow-Calf Survey shows that 91% of producers winter their cattle using baled hay, while 45% reported feeding silage. According to the 2016/17 Atlantic Cow-Calf Survey, average days on feed by feed type (non-exclusive to one feed type) are 83 days on silage, 74 days on baled hay, and 52 days on crop residues.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Silage
A major benefit to putting up silage is that, provided the crop is at the right stage, it can be harvested in almost any weather condition. Lengthy dry down times can be avoided and harvest operations can continue even in cool or moist conditions. When harvesting silage, it is recommended that the crop be at 60-65% moisture level to maximize quality and packing effectiveness.
Compared to most other systems, such as baling dry hay, silage has fewer harvesting losses and more nutrients can be harvested per acre. Ensiling permits the use of a wider range of crops including grasses, legumes, grains, corn and salvage crops that have suffered weather damage or weed infestation. Also, silage harvest can typically be done in a much shorter timeframe compared to hay.
The major disadvantage of silage compared to hay is that it requires more capital investment or cash costs. Due to the high costs of planting and harvesting equipment, many livestock producers choose to not own the equipment, but rather hire custom operators. As custom operators are usually booked well in advance, producers need to plan seeding and harvest well ahead of time and make sure they have custom operators lined up. Also, silage has limited market potential, because trucking costs restrict the distance hauled, so it must be produced near the location where it will be fed. Continue reading