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  • Writer's pictureSuzie Anne

Corn Silage: The Lettuce of Cows

Updated: Jan 6

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, a hint of a chill is carried on the wind, school has started up, and farmers are preparing for harvest. Or, if you’re a dairy farmer, you might have already begun your major harvest. Today we’re gearing up for several jam-packed days of silage chopping on top of all the regular work.

Green chop, fermented silage, and two different TMRs

Twice a day dairy farmers feed their cows salad. It’s got several different components, all mixed together with the—aptly, if not creatively named—mix wagon. On our farm, corn silage functions as the lettuce, hay the legumes, grain the seasoning—albeit much more nutritious, brewer’s grain the extra protein, molasses as the dressing, and straw as the extra stuff you add because your mom said it was good for you and would fill you up—though it doesn’t have much flavor and you’re not convinced she’s right. In all seriousness, though, the largest component of the TMR (total mixed ration) dairy farmers feed their cattle is corn silage.

Silage Chopper chopping into a truck

Corn silage is made by chopping up a fully-mature corn plant—stalk, leaves, kernels, and cob—and then storing it in a sealed container to ensile it. The traditional storage was silos, but as farms have gotten larger, bunkers and bags have become more popular. The chopping is completed by a special machine, called a silage chopper, which chops the plant, and then blows it through a spout into a wagon that follows it.

After the wagon is full, the green chop is taken to the place it will be stored and packed in tight. The fermentation process begins immediately, first aerobic, and then anaerobic bacteria working and preserving the silage. Some preservative is sprayed on the silage as it is stored, but due to the method of storage, it’s a small amount when compared to the tons of silage put up.

Sealed Bunker Silo

The last part of the process is sealing the storage area. For silos, this means climbing up and ensuring the area is level, then using a large plastic tarp-like sheet to cover it. Bunker silos also have a tarp that cover them, and tires are the most commonly used weight to keep it in place, as the top is open. Bags are the easiest to seal, as you get the air out—like a Ziploc bag—and then place dirt over the open end to form the seal. The fermentation process does produce gas, though, so some ventilation slits must be made, and then sealed with special tape at a later time, so the bag’s integrity isn’t compromised.

Wheat and silos

And that’s how corn silage is made. The process is dusty, sweaty, and can be dangerous. The operators of the tractors and silage wagons must use roads as transportation, and working around machinery is always dangerous. In addition, the fermentation process—which begins immediately—produces dangerous gases which can be deadly in enclosed spaces. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it to be able to feed and provide for the cattle throughout the following year.



Got questions? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them, or find someone who can.


God Bless, and Keep magic in the mundane,

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