Get the most out of processed corn silage

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Processed corn silage has been shown to reduce kernel passage in manure and boost milk production by 1 to 2 pounds per cow per day.

Lately, researchers have focused on two factors — chop length and maturity — and their effect on cows fed processed corn silage. These two factors may play a significant role in your cows’ performance, particularly as it relates to rumen function and starch digestibility. Here’s what some of the latest research has found:

Consider chop length
During the past several years, some producers have gone to a longer chop length — 0.75 inches (3/4 inch) or longer — when harvesting processed corn silage, notes Joe Harrison, extension dairy specialist at Washington State University.

In light of this harvesting practice, researchers at the University of Wisconsin set out to determine the effect of various chop lengths on cow performance. They found that processed corn silage with a long chop length of 0.75 inches has a positive impact on feed intake and milk production. And, processed corn silage with a fine chop length of 0.375 inches (3/8 inch) may produce negative results on rumen health. (Please see, “Chop length impacts rumen health” at right.)

As published in the June 2000 Journal of Dairy Science, a fine chop length of 0.375 inches reduced the formation of a fiber mat in the rumen, resulting in less “effective fiber” in the cows’ diet. This could increase the risk of fresh-cow disorders, such as a displaced abomasum, notes Randy Shaver, dairy nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin and one of the authors of the study. While this study lasted only 112 days, the researchers speculate that a fine chop length also may produce negative effects on rumen health in cows involved in longer-term studies.

Furthermore, recent unpublished trials at the University of Wisconsin have not shown a benefit of chopping longer than 0.75 inches. Thus, Shaver and his colleagues recommend feeding processed corn silage that is harvested at a chop length of 0.75 inches.

Harvest at proper maturity
As the corn plant matures, digestibility tends to decrease, notes Harrison. However, processing may actually improve the digestibility of corn silage harvested at advanced maturities, such as two-thirds milk line to black layer.

For example, a Washington State University experiment published in the 2000 Journal of Dairy Science Joint Annual Meeting Abstracts, found that processed corn silage harvested at two-thirds milk line yielded a starch digestibility of 98.1 percent, compared to a starch digestibility of 95.6 percent for unprocessed corn silage harvested at two-thirds maturity.

That, in turn, can boost milk production, notes graduate student Lynn Johnson, who summarized the results of 19 trials involving processed corn silage.

However, processing should not be an excuse for harvesting corn silage at maturities greater than two-thirds milk line. Instead, Johnson and Harrison recommend feeding processed corn silage which has been harvested at a maturity of one-half to two-thirds milk line to achieve optimum digestibility and milk production.

Bottom line: a chop length of 0.75 inches and a maturity between one-half to two-thirds milk line should give you optimum cow performance when feeding processed corn silage.



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