What is Silage?



Silage is simply fermented fodder stored in an airtight condition to be fed to livestock later on.

What is Silage?

What is Silage?
Maize silage

Silage is simply fermented fodder stored in an airtight condition to be fed to livestock later on.  Any type of grass plant can be used, including cereal grains such as corn, sorghum, and oats.  Note, however, that the grain is not the only part being ensiled (made into silage); the whole plant is cut and fermented.

How Silage is Made

  1. When the plants have the ideal moisture content (50% to 70% depending on storage method), they are mowed and allowed to wilt slightly.
  2. The fodder is shredded into pieces about 1/2 inch long.
  3. The fodder is packed into a pile or a bunker silo as densely as possible.
  4. The fodder is tightly covered with plastic, which is usually weighed down with tires.
  5. The silage begins to ferment and will soon be ready for winter feeding.
What is Silage?
Building a silage pile

Pros and Cons of Feeding Silage

The point of feeding silage (or any other stored forage) to grassfed livestock is to supplement pastures in seasons when forage quality is poor, such as in winter or during a drought.  Storing forages takes advantage of those times when the grass is growing faster than the cattle, sheep, or other animals can eat it, and creates a reserve feed supply for times when there’s not enough to go around.

The main advantage of making silage is that it is generally easier and less labor-intensive to make than hay.  Hay requires perfectly dry weather to cure properly.  In an unusually damp year, silage may be a good alternative.

However, silage can reduce animal performance and weight gains when fed without further supplementation.  It is especially low in quality if stored improperly or cut during a drought.  Also, silage produces toxic gases during the first couple of weeks of fermentation.  Both people and animals should be kept away from the silo during this period.

Helpful Resource

Making Quality Corn Silage
Information from Iowa State University that gives a general idea of what goes into making this type of feed.