Improving dairy efficiency means many things to many producers. As we near the corn silage harvest, processing has become a more common practice that can affect efficiency.
Whether you process in the field or at the silo, the advantages include:
- Faster rate of silage fermentation
- More densely packed material in the silo
- Decreased dry-matter loss in silage storage
- Increased effectiveness of inoculants
Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Forage Research Center supports the idea that mechanical processing can improve feed efficiency and milk production in dairy cows. However, the equipment is expensive and may not pay for itself in a smaller operation.
Larger farms are able to capitalize on new technology because of the volume they handle and size of their enterprise. Small operations need to look at custom operators for efficiency and to eliminate the high cost of purchasing large equipment.
University of Wisconsin researchers have studied the effects of corn processing and the chop length of corn silage, and the effects on intake, digestion and milk production for dairy cows. They found that processing corn silage will provide improved dry-matter intake, starch digestion and lactation performance. Research results also showed less sorting and cob refusal in the feed bunk for total mixed rations containing processed corn silage.
In those studies, researchers found that the effect of the length of the particle size (1/3 inch vs. 3/4 inch) were minimal for animal performance in processed corn silage. However, a longer chop length did prevent the depression of fiber digestion that was observed at the shorter length while still achieving improved starch digestibility with processing, contributing to feed efficiency.
As a result, a new kind of corn silage, called shredlage, has entered the scene. While limited to last year’s data, Wisconsin researchers noted that for a one-shot trial, it looked pretty encouraging for milk production. The researchers also saw a trend for some higher intake with shredlage, and an increase in energy- and fat-corrected milk.
The technology, while it seems promising, probably is a few years away from being available to the average dairyman. The shredding processor unit is available only for Claas forage harvesters and comes with a price tag of approximately $29,200.
While the advantages of kernel processing are well-established, making shredlage is a technology that will require a few more research trials, a reduction in price and a few brave souls to try it out on a field scale. However, given that all the shredlage processors produced during its first commercial year was sold very quickly, the industry appears to be welcoming technologies allowing for increased effective fiber in corn silage while reducing the time and hassle of monitoring kernel damage of silage delivered to the storage structure.
So as you fine-tune your dairy operation to increase efficiency and decide whether you are in the market for some new equipment to process your corn silage, be sure to consider the cost and benefits.