Planning Can Minimize Winter Feed Costs

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The best way to deal with high feed cost is to grow as much of your own high-quality feed as possible.

Many producers are wondering how this year's growing season will affect their corn silage quality and feed options for the upcoming year. The three biggest factors that lead to feeding high-quality corn silage are within the control of producers:

  • Harvest corn silage at the correct moisture, exclude oxygen during storage and manage feed-out.
  • Maximize energy harvest silage at about 33% to 38% dry matter.
  • If the chopper has a kernel processor, harvest at 3/4" theoretical length of cut and start by setting the rollers at 3 mm of clearance. Check how well kernels are being damaged and adjust the roller accordingly.

Ideally, you want most of the kernels completely pulverized. If you do not have a kernel processor, to maximize the energy in your corn silage you will have to chop as wet as your storage system will allow and chop finely to damage the kernels. However, finely chopped corn silage will not provide as much effective fiber as long-chopped corn silage.

With high-priced energy, it is important that we minimize the amount of corn passing in the manure. Visit with your nutritionist to determine the best chop length and moisture level for your situation. It is also important to cover you piles or bunkers to maintain quality during storage and feed-out.

The growing environment also has a large effect on corn silage quality. The most obvious effect is on grain yield. Kernels provide the majority of energy in high-quality corn silage. Dave Mertens at the USDA Forage Research Center Lab showed that weather after silking has a larger effect on grain yield; and weather before silking has a larger effect on stover yield and fiber digestibility. Therefore, hot, wet weather typically will decrease the fiber digestibility of corn silage.

Also consider if it’s a year favorable for harvesting corn grain as snaplage. The advantage of snaplage is that it can be harvested with a chopper with no additional processing, whereas high-moisture corn must be further processed before storage or feeding. The key to successful snaplage is moisture. To minimize the additional trash and maximize energy content, snaplage should be harvested right when the kernels reach physiological maturity. This point is at grain moisture content of about 35% or whole cob moisture content of about 40%.

Other planning factors to consider:

  • Conduct an inventory of all feed on your farm. Determine if it can be segregated by quality and fed to the class of livestock that will most likely benefit.
  • If you need to purchase dry hay, visit with your supplier now and get your supply secured. Hay volume nationally is low, and our Midwestern hay supply may be in demand by farmers in areas of the southern U.S. because of the drought.
  • Visit with your nutritionist about available by-product feeds and how they might work in your diets.

Now is the time to prepare for your winter feeding program. Analyzing all of your options and planning accordingly will help to minimize feed costs for the upcoming year.

To read more details about the minimizing winter feed costs, click here.


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