“Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Peter Coyne, Vita Plus

Posted on July 25, 2017 in Forage Foundations
By Peter Coyne, Vita Plus dairy service specialist

Ben Franklin said it well.

Having a well-planned corn silage harvest is essential if we want to maximize forage quality for the herd in the next year.  On a good day, custom operators chop about 100 acres of corn silage with one chopper.  For a 1,000-cow dairy, each day of chopping results in about a month’s worth of corn silage for the milking herd.

Too many times we get into harvest season and find, even though the owner, nutritionist, and custom harvester are all very professional and competent, some dots are not connected and forage quality is compromised because of poor communication.  If a truck can be filled in two to three minutes, and it takes half an hour to find an answer to a question, the costs of a wrong decision (or no decision) can add up fast.

We have found pre-harvest meetings, held three to five weeks before the expected harvest, are essential for making quality corn silage.  This meeting needs to include the chopper operator, a coordinator of the truck or wagon crew, the head of the packing crew, the nutritionist, the custom harvester, and the farm owner and the farm team members he or she wishes to include.

These meetings are most effective if they are held in a place where people can sit down and focus on the four primary objectives.

  1. Make sure everyone knows each other and who is in charge of each aspect of corn silage harvest.
  2. Decide who has the authority to make a decision during harvest.  In what situations should the dairy owner be contacted and what decisions can others make?  Many decisions can be made during this meeting with a well-planned agenda.
  3. Agree on ideal dry matters, chop length, and acceptable kernel processing as well as who will monitor these metrics and how frequently that will happen.  Also, make sure you know who will oversee inoculant application.
  4. Consider the “human resources” component.  All safety concerns should be discussed, such as phone usage, truck travel and road signage, light checks, reflective clothing, chop times, how relief drivers are brought up to speed, and what is expected for basic maintenance and cleaning of equipment during harvest.  The last few years have been wet, forcing us to pull trucks; this needs to be a part of the safety discussion as well.

We have held these meetings for many years and witnessed dramatic improvements in packing density by simply communicating to the truck drivers and packing tractor operators how important their job is and how they impact the production of high-quality corn silage.  It is essential the nutritionist does some meeting preparation with instructions on proper packing, how to properly mix and store inoculants, and how to assess kernel processing and chop length.  Contact your Vita Plus consultant for this information or help in arranging a pre-harvest meeting.

One final thought:  The custom harvesters have most likely been working really hard with lots of long days before they get to corn silage harvest.  As the harvest season reaches late September or early October, keep in mind how a compliment can impact a harvester who has been on a pile packing for seemingly weeks on end.  Be sure to catch people doing things right.

Category: Employee management
Forage Foundations