Using Silage, Earlage & HMC in Finishing Cattle

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As corn silage harvest nears, the question becomes what’s the best way to harvest the corn plant? Dr. Allen Stateler, nutritionist with Nutrition Services Associates and speaker at the Silage for Beef 2018 Conference held in Nebraska, answered that question and offered additional advice to producers about the pros and cons of each of the harvest options.

“In the cattle feeding business, there are two sides of the equation – we need energy and we need roughage, but often, we leave a lot of the roughage out in the field,” he said.

Corn silage takes the whole plant, typically from about 6 inches above the ground. Harvest silage with a forage chopper with an all-crop head. Plan to harvest when the dry matter (DM) range is 28% to 45%. However, lean more to the center of the range, said Stateler, because DM at 45% will be difficult to pack, and DM at 28% leaves “a lot of nutrition on the table by cutting the crop too early.” Corn silage allows for early harvest, provides the greatest tonnage per acre and provides the most beef produced per acre. However, it also requires significant storage facilities and equipment, and there is risk of spoilage and shrink losses.

Earlage is harvested by raising the all-crop head on the forage chopper and chopping right below the corn ear to harvest the grain, cob, husk, shank and the uppermost portion of the stalk, leaving the stalk below the corn ear in the field. Typical DM of earlage is about 60% to 75%.

Snaplage includes the grain, cob, husk and shank. Harvest snaplage similarly to earlage, but with a forage chopper using a snapper head. Typical DM is 60% to 75%. Snaplage provides 15% to 20% more DM yield per acre than high moisture corn (HMC) and offers built-in roughage. While snaplage is simple and fast to harvest, it is difficult to process and pack. It also requires additional storage capacity.

Ground ear corn includes the grain and cob and is harvested with a corn picker. It’s harvested at 77% to 90% DM.

High moisture corn includes only the wet grain. HMC is harvested with a combine at 66% to 75% DM. Monitoring DM is important with HMC – it should be at least 26% moisture to allow for fermentation. 

Goals of a Finisher Diet

“The typical goal of a finisher diet is rapid, efficient, cost-effective growth to achieve a desired end-weight and carcass composition,” Stateler said. “The effectiveness of a finishing program is most often judged, especially if you’re a commercial yard, by feed conversion, even though cost of gain is more relevant to profitability.”

Feed conversion is always a hot topic. To improve it, producers need to feed less in the diet that’s not digestible. The current diet paradigm in the cattle feeding industry is to feed a higher-energy diet with lower roughage to improve feed conversion.

Silage Performance Data

At the Silage for Beef 2018 Conference, Stateler summarized recent research from the University of Minnesota where they harvested the corn plant at various harvest endpoints (corn silage, high-moisture ear corn, high moisture corn or dry-rolled) and fed them to yearling steers at 75% of diet DM. 

Considering multiple factors – animal performance, cost at harvest, value of manure, cost to replace corn stover on the land for fertilizer cost – harvest of every other endpoint product beat the current corn price, indicating a return per acre for each option at least similar to harvesting and selling shell corn.

Gross Return

“Statistically, the return per acre was no different with any of these crop endpoints,” he noted. “So, the study concluded that producers have flexibility in choice of harvest endpoint, allowing them to grow, harvest, and feed a combination of these crops to optimize ruminal starch fermentation while retaining gross returns per acre at least similar to harvesting shell corn.”

Concerning weather, producers can go earlier or later depending on recent or expected weather patterns. The crop endpoint options also offer opportunities to utilize different or available equipment or custom harvesters over an extended time period instead of trying to cram a lot of work into a limited time.

“Nutritionally, a producer can use any of these products or combinations of products in the feedyard.  So, we can focus much of our harvesting decisions on agronomic, management and labor considerations,” Stateler concluded.

To watch Stateler’s full presentation via livestream, click here.

Allen Stateler
Dr. Allen Stateler, Nutrition Services Associates

Headline image courtesy of Allen Stateler

 

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