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Harvest late-planted corn for cattle feed

In terms of storage, silage piles save money over baleage, University of Missouri Extension specialists say.

September 25, 2019

3 Min Read
used tires weigh down plastic sheeting over silage pile
SECURED SILAGE: Used tires provide weight to secure plastic around the silage pile. Rana Zeller

Late-planted corn may find its way into feedyards. One storage method could save you some money.

The cost to harvest corn planted as a cover crop for silage this year greatly varies, according to a new study from University of Missouri Extension.

The traditional "chop-pile-cover" method costs about half as much as baleage, according to a team made up of Reagan Bluel, MU Extension dairy specialist; Brent Carpenter, MU Extension ag business specialist; and Ryan Lock, MU Extension research specialist.

They looked at harvest and storage methods and considered costs for planting to storage for varying yields. This reflects "as fed" costs typical for silage. Because silage is two-thirds water, dry matter costs are significantly greater, Carpenter says.

Whatever the method, ensile corn at 65% moisture to ferment properly, Bluel says. Proper fermentation results in increased feeding value to your herd.

Corn planted in July may not reach the stage when moisture levels are prime for ensiling. For best results, collect well-mixed samples to test moisture content.

How to make a silage pile

Preparation is key to the silage pile method, Bluel says.

Consider where you will feed the silage before you begin harvest. Under the "chop-pile-cover" method, equipment chops and blows forage into a truck or wagon to haul. Silage contains 65% water, so you do not want to haul it a long way before or after ensiling.

Pack piles tightly to get rid of oxygen pockets that spoil feed. Bluel says research from Cornell University shows losses of up to 20% from underpacking. Select a site with good elevation and drainage.

Put the pile near feeding systems and protect it from rodents and other animals that could damage the plastic cover.

Order cover plastic in advance. Figure the size of the silage pile and order enough 6-mil plastic to cover immediately after packing to reduce storage loss. Weigh down the plastic with old tires and seal along the edges.

This option costs about $25 to $45 per ton into storage as fed ($70 to $130 per ton dry matter basis), Carpenter says.

a truck delivers chopped corn to silage pile

TIGHT PACK: Trucks bring chopped corn to a central location for packing, covering and ensiling.

Getting baleage right

Baleage involves mowing, wilting, round baling and wrapping in plastic to get rid of oxygen. Ensiling happens in the long white tubes you may see at the edge of fields. The round baler does the packing needed in the traditional silage process.

"Mow only what you can bale and wrap within 24 hours," Bluel says. "Remember forage needs moisture to ensile and depending on the density of the corn and weather, moisture can change in the windrow pretty quickly."

Swath corn the width of your baler to avoid raking; field wilt immature corn to the right moisture for ensiling. Lush, immature corn could be 80% water, which would be too wet to ensile, Bluel says.

Wrap bales with two layers of net wrap and seven layers of 1-mil plastic film. Do not skimp on plastic; wrap bales airtight. If oxygen enters, the forage molds. Check bales often and seal holes with plastic tape.

Carpenter says the cost for this method is about $55 to $70 per ton as fed ($155 to $200 per ton dry matter basis), making it a convenient but expensive option.

Proper chop improves feeding efficiency

Silage balers with crop-cutting knives improve the consistency of cattle feed. The knives chop stalks and cobs into small parts to blend the best part of the corn with the worst, Bluel says. This reduces waste because cattle do not have the option to eat only the best parts and leave the rest.

"It's like us eating a Snickers bar and not eating the green beans," Bluel says. "We want the cow to have a balanced 'biteful,' so the cow cannot sort out the candy."

For information, read the MU Extension publication "Corn Silage" found at extension2.missouri.edu/g4590.

Source: University of Missouri Extension, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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