For most parts of the Midwest, 2020 provided a good, if not “near-perfect” growing season for corn silage. But that may not translate to perfect feed.
“It’s interesting—in years where we have adequate feed inventory and above-average yields, we typically have below-average forage quality,” says John Goeser, Rock River Laboratory animal nutrition, research and development director.
Moisture and heat units were good this year, causing plants to grow rapidly. The problem is that this rapid growth can lead to more lignification. “Lignification is likely to be greater this year, and I’m hearing about above-average grain yields,” he says. And this could all boil down to less-than-ideal fiber digestibility.
Lignin concentrates at the bottom of the corn plant. To combat it, high-cutting corn leaves the lignin in the field and therefore improves the overall digestibility of the remaining part of the plant that is harvested, ensiled, fermented and fed.
Typically, high-cutting means cutting 6” to 10” higher than normal. “This can go up to two feet high—yielding a feed that is similar to almost snaplage or earlage,” says Goeser. In high-cutting situations, silage quality increases while dry matter decreases. So you need to be aware of plant moisture levels for ideal ensiling.
If possible, Goeser recommends doing a test a few days early by chopping 100’ runs into a field at two or three different cut heights. “Take samples at each cutting height and sending them in for a nutritional measure to dial in your timeline and reap the rewards of expertly timed harvest.”
Also pay attention to milk line and moisture at harvest. “If the milk line advances past maturity, let it go a little further to hit moisture at the right time,” he says. “Missing moisture and harvesting on the dry side can wreak havoc on silage quality.”
If you are close to Iowa fields that were damaged by the derecho weather event in August, these corn fields might present an opportunity to harvest as corn silage. “If it’s just lodged, corn is incredibly resilient, will likely gooseneck and stay alive,” he says.
If that’s the case, the corn could still make viable silage and could be salvaged. “If harvesting damaged fields in this region, scout the field prior to chopping, being mindful of remnants from the storm while also enduring no employees are in the field when chopping has commenced,” he says.
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