A smaller-than-predicted corn crop has sent corn futures prices skyrocketing, and some people are now talking about $7.50-per-bushel corn.

In an Oct. 8 report, the USDA lowered its corn harvest estimate to 12.66 billion bushels, down 3.8 percent from a September projection and down 3.4 percent from the record 13.11 billion-bushel crop of 2009.

The same strategies that people used a few years ago to weather high corn prices are still relevant, according to Mike Hutjens, extension dairy specialist at the University of Illinois:

  • Check and calculate the starch levels in your ration (research indicates a range from 19 to 26 percent can maintain milk yield).
  • Determine if corn silage was properly processed.
  • Check particle size of corn grain (dry corn should be 900 to 1100 microns).
  • Explore other starch sources (e.g. hominy, bakery waste) to see if they are economical.
  • Strategically allocate existing forages. Feed more corn silage if inventories allow.
  • Conduct a fecal starch analysis to see if cows are utilizing starch efficiently. With well-processed grain and corn silage, fecal starch should be less than 5 percent. Here's what Dr. Hutjens had to say about this in last month's issue of Nutritionist e-Network.

Steve Abrams, dairy nutritionist from Wisconsin, says his main alternative to corn is corn gluten feed, either wet or dry. But, he acknowledges, its price has been increasing pretty dramatically.

"With corn at $5 per bushel, and soybean meal at $300 per ton, the break-even price for dry corn gluten is approximately $224, and for wet (60 percent moisture) corn gluten the break-even price is about $100," he says. "These products still price in, but they are not the bargains they once were. I generally do not feed over 6 pounds of dry matter from corn gluten, but this will vary with what other byproduct feeds are being fed to the cows.

"Obviously, another way to reduce the use of corn grain is to maximize corn silage," Abrams says. "I normally do not exceed a 2:1 ratio of corn silage:hay crop dry matter. Of course, the ability to do this is dependent on current corn silage inventories."