3 Important Factors to Evaluate Corn Silage

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Core Catt, Forage Product Manager

“Price is what you pay, but value is what you get.”

This adage holds true for corn silage research, too. That’s why Latham Hi-Tech Seeds builds knowledge from previous years of corn silage research.

Latham Seeds has several locations across the Midwest where we evaluate corn silage grain yield plus these three important factors:

1. Economic impact to the livestock producers. Corn silage and alfalfa are more complex than cash grain crops as we look for high value in the fields and at the feed bunk. Research continually refines the impacts on beef and dairy on tonnage, fiber digestibility and starch digestibility.

Tonnage Fiber Digestability

  • Tonnage. Corn silage dry matter is comprised of about 50% grain
    and 50% stover. Modern dual-purpose hybrid genetics tend to have a lot of grain yield capacity, which contributes favorably to overall yield. Additionally, we look for hybrids that are robust in plant structure to provide additional tonnage benefits.
  • Economic Benefit to yield. Corn silage price per ton at 65% whole-plant moisture (WPM) is about 10 times the market price of corn. At $6 per bushel for corn, that’s $60 per ton for corn silage. There are many pricing variations. Depending on the growing season and location, tonnage can range from 20 to more than 30 tons per acre. A typical acre will gross $1,200 to $1,800 per
    acre. Truly, every ton counts.
  • Starch digestibility. This can be a bit complex, which is why most seed companies don’t consider this factor. This is a high priority at Latham Seeds as starch is 50% of the plant’s dry matter. Indeed, it’s complex. When the plant stores starch in the kernel, there is a relationship between genetics, growing season and fertility. Drought, years with low heat units and soils with low fertility can contribute to lighter test weights, but starch tends to be more digestible vs. heavy test weights. Our goal is to index our hybrids over multiple years and multiple environments to help maximize the energy from every molecule of starch, so it doesn’t pass unused through the animal in manure.

Economic Benefit to Starch Digestibility. There is a lot of research about starch digestibility in beef and dairy. Less than 3% fecal starch is optimum. A study at University of Pennsylvania revealed a 0.72 pounds of milk/day decrease for every 1% increase of fecal starch. This equate to about $65,000 annually for a 1,000-cow dairy.

Soft and Hard Starch

  • Fiber Digestibility. Imagine the structure a corn plant must have to keep the plant upright and stand through high winds. The base of the corn plant contains a high amount of lignin, a structural component that keeps the plant upright. We can measure how much is in the corn silage, as well how much is digestible. The goal is to have as much as the fiber digestible as possible. Generally, a cow that consumes more and uses more of what is consumed is more productive. Some studies show that cows that use more of what is consumed also produce less manure.

Economic Benefit to Fiber Digestibility. Generally, every point increase in fiber digestibility on a feed report is neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD). A dairy cow can produce up to one-half pound more milk per day. When you factor that across 1,000 cows in a dairy for 365 days, having 1 point better digestion can have an economic impact of approximately $45,000 per year!

In review, consider factors beyond raw grain yield when evaluating corn silage hybrids. Selecting hybrids that have demonstrated better digestibility can be helpful to a livestock producer’s bottom line. Feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance as you’re writing early orders.