Is corn too valuable to feed corn silage?

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Corn silage has historically been considered a “cheap feed” in the dairy industry. After the recent higher corn grain prices, some are asking if it is more economical to sell grain than to feed corn silage. Bruce Jones, UW-Extension farm management specialist based at UW-Madison, recently addressed this issue in his paper “Potential Economic Advantages of Corn Silage Over Hay as Forage in Dairy Cow Rations” indicating a decided economic advantage to corn silage. Even though corn silage, as well as most other forage and grain options are no longer cheap, corn silage is still a very economical forage under many, if not most production scenarios.

Because every dairy farm is different, a new decision making tool is now available to assist dairy producers who grow their own feed in making the crop production/feeding decision. The Corn Silage: Hay Economics Calculator allows a producer to input up-to-date feed values, cost of production/acre, comparative yields, production/cow and the planned ration corn silage: hay forage mix to test the corn silage advantage. Sensitivity analysis allows the comparison of economic advantage over a range of yield and pricing situations. A comparison to either all corn silage or hay forage is also made.

A recent analysis utilizing the tool indicates a $548/acre economic advantage to the production and feeding of corn silage versus hay to a 30,000 lb/cow herd. Assumptions included corn silage yielding 17 T (as fed), 180 bushel corn grain and hay yield of 3.8 T (as fed) per acre; $500/acre corn production costs and corn grain and Soybean Oil Meal (SBOM) values at $7.00/bu. and $360/T respectively. The tool balances a ration based on the forage, comparing the cost of forage options. Thus, the values of grain and SBOM fed are accounted for.

The corn silage economic advantage holds when comparing a range of corn grain prices to various corn silage yields until grain yield exceeds 150 bu. and silage yield drops to 11 T/acre. Both higher valued grain and lower yielding corn silage eventually erases the corn silage advantage. However, even at 261 bu/acre grain, corn silage only needs to yield 15 T to regain the economic advantage.

Although the value of corn silage has ballooned from around $35 to $85/T it is still an economical feed for lactating dairy cows under most production scenarios compared to hay for those who grow their own feed and have the option of selling or feeding grain.  Exceptions may include soil conditions or short growing seasons where corn production is less than optimal as compared to hay. Dairy producers in parts of Wisconsin where the prospect of grain production is slight may still find corn silage competitive to hay production unless a market for excess production is either not available or will not offset the growing/purchase of other feeds.

The Corn Silage: Hay Economics Calculator produces an analysis custom designed to your farm. It is available for download from the UW-Extension, FARM Team website at http://www.uwex.edu/ces/farmteam/  and will also be available on the Center for Dairy Profitability website at http://cdp.wisc.edu/Decision%20Making%20Tools.htm “Decision Making Tools” in the near future. You may also obtain the decision making tool by request from your local UW-Extension agriculture agent.



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