Advances in corn hybrid genetics have presented many improvements in the production of food and fiber for our world. The role of corn silage never has been as prevalent as it is today in the diets of lactating dairy cattle for the production of milk, says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University extension dairy specialist.
Unfortunately, the cost to provide the feed to dairy cows in return for this food has become astronomical. Feed represents the most costly cash outflow for dairy cattle producers, and the cost to raise or buy that input has reached record levels. Worse yet, this has happened at a time when the cash inflow from selling milk is at a record low price and comparable to the price received 30 years ago, he notes.
So while dairy farmers start out each day just trying to keep their business afloat, astute managers are fine-tuning every aspect of their operation to that end. One obvious area is the feed bill.
Corn is one major component to the feed bill. And because dairy cows need forage, and corn silage is an excellent forage that is high in energy, corn silage is not likely to be eliminated from the ration any time soon. “As my revered predecessor, George Fisher (former NDSU Extension dairy specialist), once said, ‘You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,’ or in other words, to make milk, you need to feed the cow quality and quantity,” says Schroeder.
One very useful method to keep quantity and quality in the feed yard is to reduce spoilage losses. With wet feeds such as corn silage, the losses can be very high. If, for example, a dairy producer harvests 25 acres for corn silage and the yield is 20 tons per acre, then 500 tons of corn silage should be available to be incorporated into a ration to be fed to the dairy herd during the next 12 months.
But will that amount of corn silage really be available for the year’s feeding? Probably not. Losses include dry-matter loss through fermentation, wastage and spoilage. The bottom line is that such losses affect corn silage inventory. The question producers ask, especially this year, is: How much wastage and spoilage is acceptable?
Dry-matter loss with fermentation and feeding should be less than 10 percent, yet on some farms, losses can be as great as 25 percent or more. When evaluating yield, getting 2 to 5 tons less corn silage yield per acre than anticipated is disappointing.
Yet, losing 2 to 5 tons per acre in storage or through the farm’s feeding system practices is easy if everything possible isn’t done to prevent wastage and spoilage. Therefore, the cost of producing the corn silage also has to take into account the feed losses that don’t get to the bunk. Decreasing feed shrinkage is a good management strategy to help reduce these costs.