Crops must be wilted when harvested at the boot/early ear emergence stage, but they can be direct chopped at the soft dough stage. The recommended harvest drymatter contents for the respective stages are given in Table 4. The window of opportunity for optimum silage making is narrow (often less than 7 days). If the crop is too dry (>46%DM) it may be difficult to compact and can trap more air in the silage leading to spoilage. Alternatively if it is too wet the silage quality will be poor, with spoilage and possible effluent losses9.

Table 4: Target drymatter content for ensiling cereals10  
Species  Flag leaf - Boot stage 
Soft dough stage
Oats 32 - 40%* Not recommended
Barley, wheat and triticale 32 - 40%* 36 - 42%

*Some balers may require higher drymatter levels.

Crops that are harvested at the flag leaf/boot - early ear emergence stage will have field drymatter levels of 18 - 22% and therefore need to be wilted to promote the best fermentation characteristics.

For best results:

  • Cut at approximately 7 - 10 cm in height.
  • Where possible use a mower conditioner to crimp/crack the stems. This will encourage faster wilting.
  • To encourage fast wilting, leave the windrow wide and thin especially if the crop is dense.


9de Ruiter, J.M.; Hanson, R. 2004. Whole crop cereal silage - production and use in dairy, beef, sheep and deer farming. New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research Limited. ISBN 0-478-10849-4. 33pp.

10Adapted from: Forage Cereals: Harvesting whole-crop cereal silage. Agnote 1244. Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia.