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I have talked about silage for last couple of months in this column. My discussion so far has covered what is silage, what is a silo, the advantages and disadvantages of silage, crops commonly used for silage, the ensiling process and factors affecting silage quality.

Many factors, such as maturity stage of crops, type of stored crops, moisture content and length of chop, affect the quality of silage during storage, and at the time of feeding.

Today, I will continue the discussion on silage, looking at estimating quick moisture content and chopping length of silage, as well as preservatives and additives for silage.

For a quick estimate of moisture content in chopped forage, a simple field technique may be used. Below are some helpful tips for estimating moisture content. First, form a ball of chopped forage or silage in your hands and then observe the conditions of the ball.

The following observed conditions would tell us about the moisture content. If the ball holds its original shape and has considerable free juice, that represents over 75 percent moisture content of the silage. If the ball holds its original shape but has little free juice, the silage has between 70 and 75 percent moisture. However, if the ball falls apart slowly and has no free juice, this represents 60 to 70 percent moisture, and if the ball falls apart rapidly with no free juice, it has below 60 percent moisture.

When looking at the length of the chop, we have to consider the ensiling process. In the ensiling process, air exclusion is the first, and a very critical, phase. Finely chopped and adequately packed silage help to achieve this short phase.

In general, the length of chopped silage should be three-eighths to one-half inches. This length helps ensure appropriate fermentation through releasing juices of plant. This also allows better packing for exclusion of oxygen.

For improving silage quality, several investigations have been conducted and are ongoing. In certain situations, some additive and preservative products have proven to be beneficial.

For example, acid-forming bacteria seem to be promising as an additive, especially with early spring-cut and late autumn-cut haylage. However, products such as enzymes, yeast and antibiotics need to be further investigated.

It is important to give careful consideration before selecting any silage additives. No additives can replace or substitute the basic principles of making good silage, including harvesting at the right maturity stage, storing silage properly with the appropriate moisture content, fine chopping, proper packing and the right covering. Remember, as feed, silage can be no better than silage with additives added to the silo.

In the next article, I will continue this discussion on silo gases and their importance, followed by feeding of silage. Please keep an eye out for my next Extension columns.

Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Department of Plant Sciences. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lingle – After the disastrous results of a late summer hail storm that moved through eastern Wyoming in late July, researchers at the University of Wyoming (UW) James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) decided to change the destruction into an opportunity to test treatments options for hail damaged corn.

“We felt like we didn’t have great answers to questions producers had,” said Carrie Eberle, UW assistant professor of agronomy and cropping systems.

“We wanted to go ahead and take advantage of this bad situation and put in a study to try and come up with some different options for dealing with this late season corn damage,” she continued.

SAREC hosted the Hail Study Field Day on Oct. 18 to present their current study design and findings.

Corn treatment

“One of the questions we were asked was, ‘How do we deal with this corn in the field that has no leaf material, no grain in it and has no value for silage,” said Eberle.

The study compares four corn management strategies to answer that question, she said.

“We either left the corn standing, chopped it with a stalk shredder and left the biomass in the field or hit the stand of corn with a disk twice to till the field and turn the corn residue under. Our last treatment was using a stalk chopper, then following with a disk and a landstar to finish the tillage treatment,” explained Eberle.

Each corn treatment influences nutrient availability for growing crops the following season.

“They’re going to have different impacts on how nutrients cycle through the system,” said Eberle. “We left all of the corn that we used our fertilizer on in the field all summer to try and get it to grow. Depending on whether we till it in the fall or the spring, we asked, when does that make nutrients available to us for next season’s crop?”

Cover crops

Five different cover crop treatments and a fallow treatment are being used in each of the corn management treatments.

As the farm is used for production, Eberle noted that pesticide use limited the cover crops that could be planted.

“Unfortunately, because we are a production farm, our fields were treated with Vision, which means that we were not able to plant any broadleafs in these fields. There’s a 180-day replant time, so we just did grasses,” explained Eberle.

The study is evaluating wheat, rye, sorghum and two concentrations of triticale.

The wheat, rye and triticale will survive winter and be available in the spring.

“That’s going to bring up different management options for the spring,” commented Eberle.

She noted that the sorghum did not establish well in their fields, but a neighbor’s cover crop was significantly more successful.

“Our neighbor across the road also planted some sorghum two weeks before we did and his looks much better than ours,” said Eberle.

This fall, researchers have assessed how quickly cover crops have grown and taken biomass samples.

“We looked at what our operation costs were, what our seed costs were, what our biomass was getting off it and what that means for grazing these fields,” Eberle continued.

Future work

In two weeks, the fields will be grazed by cattle to look at which treatment and cover crop the animals show a preference for, said Eberle. Researchers will use aerial imaging and forage clippings to measure crop preference.

The percentage of ground cover, as well as soil fertility will be measured in the spring.

The fields will be replanted with corn for the following fall harvest, where researchers will measure corn yield to determine the impact of each cropping strategy.

Eberle does expect there to be more problems with plant disease in corn for next fall.

She noted, “We will probably have more problems with rot in following rotations.”

Eberle also stressed that the research work is still in its early stages, meaning that producers can still bring questions that are not being addressed currently to the attention of the research team.

“If anyone wants to know something different than what we’re telling them now or they have an idea of what they might want us to look at instead, we’re very open to hearing those ideas,” said Eberle. “We’re pretty early in the study, so we can probably still collect some different types of data that farmers might be interested in knowing about.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“Corn rootworms are truly historic pests,” said Joseph Spencer of the Illinois Natural History Survey. 

Spencer spoke about corn rootworm management during a webinar hosted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension on Feb. 20.

Billion dollar insects

There are two species of corn rootworms that are the most prevalent across the U.S., including eastern Wyoming – the Western corn rootworm and the Green Northern corn rootworm. 

“Together these two species are known as the billion dollar insects,” explained Spencer, “based on the cost of their management and yield losses that they can inflict.” 

Both the Northern and Western corn rootworms lifecycle and biology are closely tied to its host plant – corn. 

Eggs of the rootworms are laid in the moist soil cracks in cornfields during the summer. The lifespan of the rootworms is between five to six weeks.

“The rootworms are one millimeter in diameter and can fit inside the zero on the date of a U.S. penny,” described Spencer.


When the eggs are laid in the summer, they lay dormant over the winter and begin to hatch in May or June. The exact timing of the hatch depends on soil temperature. 

“Mortality of the rootworms is high if there is flooding in the cornfields during the time the eggs are hatching,” stated Spencer. 

The larvae that emerge go through three stages, and they can inflict significant feeding injury and expose disease to corn roots. 

The larval neonates can survive for four to eight days without any food if they are unable to locate corn roots to feed on. 

“Once severe damage is done to the corn roots, the stalks can tip over,” said Spencer. 

In late June to early July, the rootworms begin to turn into beetles, and they begin to emerge from the soil. When they first emerge as beetles, they are a pale color teneral adult. 

It takes about 12 to 24 hours for the adults to obtain a hardened cuticle. 


The males emerge about a week prior to the females and are not sexually mature until five to seven days later. 

The females are sexually mature upon their emergence of the soil. Females only mate once after emergence while males can mate multiple times. 

“The female signals her readiness to mate by releasing a sex pheromone that will attract mate-seeking males,” said Spencer. “Both the Northern and Western corn rootworms use the same pheromone.”

After mating the female then begins to move about the cornfield for about a week. 

A portion of the Western corn rootworms will leave the cornfields, flying great distances away.


“Approximately 15 to 24 percent of the young female mated Western corn rootworms are capable of engaging in sustained flight,” explained Spencer. “Some may travel up to 24 kilometers away in one sustained flight, although most will make several shorter multi-kilometer flights before settling down in another cornfield.” 

The greatest transport of the Western corn rootworms, however, is made possible by thunderstorms. 

“The updraft from approaching thunderstorms suck in flying rootworm beetles and carries them high into the sky,” described Spencer. “The storm later washes them out with the rain 10 to over 100 miles away.” 

Northern corn rootworms may only disperse as far away as the next cornfield to begin depositing their eggs. 

Egg laying of the Northern and Western corn rootworms begins six to 10 days after their emergence from the soil, and a female can produce up to 500 eggs in a field. 

“The maximum egg production seen from a female is 1,800 eggs,” stated Spencer. 

Crop rotation

“Crop rotation seemed like an obvious solution to the corn rootworm problems,” stated Spencer. “Unfortunately an extended egg diapause can occur, resulting in the hatching of the eggs delayed until two winters had passed.” 

“Effectively allowing these insects to circumvent crop rotation,” he added. 

Producers have started to plant soybeans next to cornfields or instead of corn, but the rootworms have now become resistant. 

“The rotational resistant rootworms now engage in much more inter-field movement between corn and soybeans,” said Spencer. “The rootworms will feed on the soybean foliage, but they will eventually move back to corn.” 

With the spread of rotational resistant rootworms the use of soil insecticides has dramatically increased and spurred the argument to use more Bt-corn for corn rootworm management. 

Bt-corn is a genetically modified variety that produces an insecticidal protein to help manage against rootworm pests.

“Learning about rootworm biology and applying that knowledge is key to using Bt-corn or other management tactics as part of an integrative approach to rootworm pest management in the Corn Belt,” explained Spencer. 

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about silage – what is silage, what are silos, advantages and disadvantages of silage and crops commonly used for silage. Today, I will discuss the ensiling process of silage.

The ensiling process occurs after green, moist forage is placed in a silo. The process results in many changes in the forage as time advances. These changes maybe slow or fast depending on the type of crop, amount of moisture, length of chop and, finally, the type of silo. The entire process may be complete within 20 to 21 days if the conditions are favorable. Under good conditions, the process may result in silage with stable, high quality and pleasant smelling.

The goal of making high quality silage is to use oxygen and lower the pH. This will make the forage materials pickled or preserved. To achieve this goal, two types of bacteria are necessary. The first type of bacteria are oxygen-using bacteria called aerobic bacteria. These bacteria give off carbon dioxide and heat. In well-packed and finely chopped silage, these aerobic bacteria can utilize all oxygen in four to six hours. The heat released in this process can raise the temperature from 80 to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The second type of bacteria are called anaerobic bacteria. These bacteria work in absence of oxygen and produce acetic acid. After that, lactic acid bacteria become active and continue producing lactic acid for 16 to 18 days. At this point, the pH drops very low – to between 3.6 and 4.2, and the silage is pickled.

At the other hand, at this time, all bacteria stop working. As a result, the silage becomes stable. This condition can remain for longer periods of time provided that no oxygen enter the silo.

Learning the basic process in ensiling is very important. This helps an understanding and appreciation of the importance of how to better manage ensiling practices. The process described above shows that finely chopped and good packing silage are very important. This favors elimination of oxygen quickly by aerobic bacteria before any acid production starts.

For a good ensiling process, a rapidly available supply of digestible energy is important as this helps anaerobic bacteria to produce acids. This is one of the good reasons why corn and other high-energy grain crops are considered as excellent silage crops.

I will continue discussion on silos, factors affecting silage quality and feeding silage in the Extension columns over the coming months. Please keep an eye on other parts.

Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rapid City, S.D. – Beef producers will see more opportunities in 2014, according to Chad Spearman, an analyst with CattleFax. Spearman recently spoke of changes in the cattle market during his presentation at the Range Beef Cow Symposium in Rapid City, S.D.

“There will be a lot of opportunity for beef producers because of cheaper feed costs and weather improvements in a lot of the beef producing states,” he said. “Things are looking pretty optimistic, especially for the cow/calf producer.”

Recent challenges

The news was a welcome change for all segments of the beef industry. 

“Obviously, we have had challenges in the packing, feedlot, stocker-feeder and cow/calf operations during the last several years from revolving drought, record high feed prices and over-capacity situations with declines in pacified feeders and feed inventory,” Spearman explained. “Last year, we had good precipitation and forage growth. But, in 2012, we gave up a lot of hay production and ended up losing a significant amount of hay stocks. As a result, we had record high hay prices and tight supplies. In 2013, we started to rebuild that.”

Spearman said conditions have started to improve in the Southern Plains, Southeast and the Northern Plains where more than 80 percent of the beef cow inventory in the U.S. lives. Those areas were all hit hard by recent droughts.

Corn drops

The story for 2014 will be the continuing decline in corn prices.  

“Since 2008, we have had record high corn prices multiple times,” Spearman said. “The market has been quite volatile because of the onset of the ethanol industry and the drought in 2012. Those factors significantly limited crop yields.” 

The analyst said other countries actually stepped forward to make up for our loss of production. 

Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine have been large exporters of corn during the last two years. 

To put things in perspective, Spearman said the U.S. exported 750 million bushels of corn in 2012. Typically, the U.S. exports 1.5 to 2 billion bushels of corn each year. 

“Those other three countries were able to make up that shortfall in global demand,” he said. 

Spearman said the U.S. produced 14 billion bushels of corn in 2013. 

“That helped corn supplies recover substantially,” he said, “but, it will limit corn prices for the next couple years.”

He projects $3.50 to $5.50 corn.

Feedlot segment

For a feedlot operator, this is good news. 

In 2013, the cost of gain in a feedyard reached $1.15 to $1.35. Now, that cost has dropped to 80 cents, and Spearman told producers not to be surprised if the cost drops evener lower to 50 cents this year. 

“A cheaper cost of gain, in addition to an elevated live calf market, means calf prices will be very well-supported on a live basis for the next two to three years,” he said. 

Spearman said he doesn’t see corn dropping to the $3.50 level, at least in the near term. 

“The potential for that will be in late summer or fall this year,” he explained. “I anticipate farmers giving up a couple million acres of corn in 2014.”

“But, if yields are still around 159 bushels per acre, compared to 160 in 2013, we will have another 13.6 billion bushel crop again this year that will build stocks and push prices even lower,” he said. 

Spot prices for corn are currently well-supported at $4.10 to $4.25, the analyst said. However, there is the potential to see prices jump to $4.75 to $4.90 during the spring rally. 

Livestock versus grain

For the livestock producer, Spearman said feed prices look a lot better. 

But, it could be a tough road ahead for grain producers. Higher cash rent, increasing land values and commodity prices that are on their way back down will hurt grain farmers, he said. 

On the upside, while energy-based and starch-based feeds like corn will be considerably cheaper, protein-based feeds like soybean meal remain elevated in price. 

Spearman said dry matter protein is currently in the 45 to 65 cents-per-pound range. He anticipates the price will continue to be elevated until spring when it will be confirmed if the South American soybean crop will be as large as projected. 

“Stocks are tight for soybeans and soybean meal,” Spearman said. 

These high protein costs are also propping up hay prices and distillers grain, he added. 

While feedyards could purchase distiller’s grain at 55 to 75 percent of the price of corn, distiller’s grain is now at 120 percent of the cost of corn, he explained. Because of the price, most feedyards are utilizing less distiller’s grain and purchasing more corn. 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..