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'Kick Up' Corn Silage Feed Quality

Harvesting maturity and silage additive tips to boost dairy nutritional value.

Corn silage harvest is already underway in many parts of the country. Yet, there are things you can do to maximize the efficiency of the feed you bring in from the field – and shave feed costs.

Harvest maturity has a dramatic impact on corn silage nutritional value, stresses Bill Mahanna, nutritional sciences manager for Pioneer Hi-bred. That's why he suggests letting corn gain starch content with a later harvest date. Aim for an average dry matter range of 35% to 38%.

Isn't that risky? Not with the latest corn hybrids containing technology traits that allow for much healthier plants later in the fall. You can wait until the corn is a bit more mature "to capture more starch without significantly loosing fiber digestibility," he explains.

Monitor whole-plant moisture content to determine the chopping time frame. After all, kernels will be maturing while the corn plant remains green and healthy. If corn is still actively photosynthesizing, it's not unusual for the corn to lay down 0.5 to 1.0 points of starch per day until the kernel reaches physiological maturity (black layer).

Pioneer agronomists and producers also are assessing whether to high-chop to improve fiber digestibility and how to monitor if kernel processing is adequate on the silage as it comes out of the field.

Don't forget inoculants

Not all silage inoculants are the same, points out Mahanna. "The best performing inoculants work on both 'front-end' fermentation as well as preventing heating during 'back-end' feedout." They also contain crop-specific, proprietary bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus buchneri, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus casei and Enterococcus faecium.

L. buchneri, for instance, promotes aerobic stability of the silage and keeps forage fresher longer. The net result is that corn silage inoculated with it inhibits yeast growth which can lead to excessive heating and nutrient loss.

It's now possible to preserve forage put into the silo – and make what comes out of the silo better than the day it was harvested," claims William Rutherford, senior research manager for Pioneer forage additives. Two university silage studies reported this summer suggest that a particular strain of L. buchneri increases corn silage fiber digestibility.

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