Fall is upon us, and for the most part, producers have completed harvest and are ready to evaluate challenges they experienced and identify changes to management practices and silage production, according to Daren Redfearn, associate professor at the University of Nebraska. Forage planning strategies to consider include:
- Crop selection
- Crop nutrients
- Harvest management
“I’m going to focus on crop selection and offer some alternatives to corn that beef producers don’t always consider. However, dairy producers have taken advantage of at least a few of these silage crops for many years,” Redfearn said. “When we talk about silage types, traditionally corn is king. It has a relatively high input cost; it’s a very high-energy feed, but typically lower in protein.”
Moving west into the Great Plains, more grain sorghum is grown for silage, but its input cost is more moderate than corn. While being slightly lower in feeding value than corn, Redfearn would still classify grain sorghum as a high-energy/low-protein silage.
“Several seed companies have developed corn hybrids specifically for silage production,” he noted. “Dairy producers have been using these hybrids for a number of years. Often you don’t see high grain yields, but silage hybrids tend to stay green a little longer and have increased fiber digestibility. Dairy producers want the high energy from the grain, but the digestible neutral detergent fiber (NDF) that’s in their forage is also important.”
For the sorghums, the sorghum x sudangrass hybrids and forage sorghum tend to be used for silage rather than grain sorghum. Both of these have higher tonnage than grain sorghum, but without the grain production. However, the key component is digestible fiber and the ability of the ruminant to convert the digestible fiber to energy.
Some forage-type sorghums can be harvested in a single-cut system, while others are best used in a multiple-harvest system. A single-cut harvest usually occurs closer to full maturity. However, a multiple-harvest system is harvested closer to the boot stage. So, yield may be lower, but quality is usually greater. The disadvantage is that it requires two equipment passes through the field, so be sure to look at the cost of both when planning, Redfearn advises.
Often overlooked as silage options by beef producers, many areas of the country use perennial cool-season grasses and perennial legumes for silage. These include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, orchardgrass, bromegrass, and oftentimes alfalfa and clover.
“They are harvested as hay crops, but you can also harvest them as either direct-cut silage at boot stage, which is harvested and ensiled immediately, or harvest, wilt then ensile, which I prefer, especially if the crop has higher moisture content. It’ll remove some of the moisture, which reduces potential storage losses through seepage. But perennial grasses and legumes can make very high-quality silage.”
Cover crops have gained a lot of interest, primarily the small grain component of the cover crop mixes, which can create opportunities for producers to take advantage of to produce forage for the silo, given the timing for harvest.
“Small grains with the highest yield potential for silage are harvested at soft dough,” Redfearn explained. “The highest quality is going to be a few weeks prior at boot stage or early heading when plants will have high moisture content and might need to be wilted. At soft dough, the optimal moisture is 65% to 70%. However, if they’re harvested earlier to increase the quality, they will be closer to 85% to 90% moisture at boot to early heading stage.”
When planning for the season, Redfearn recommends producers plan for several scenarios, including a worst-case scenario.
Headline image courtesy of Alex Tonon-Rosa, Graduate Student, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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