What to Feed Cattle Instead of Silage

Some cattlemen have reported a dip in forage production this year, which opens the door for a whole host of different options.
calendar icon 2 September 2014
clock icon 4 minute read

University of Minnesota forage expert Jim Paulson assesses various corn and silage options which may benefit livestock holdings.

However, first thing is to gauge how much is required, which means thinking about calving time for beef herds. 

Inventory and Feeding Budget

The next step is to build a feed and forage needs budget to estimate feed needs for your farm, writes Mr Paulson in the September North Dakota State University newsletter.

Once you have a reasonable feed needs estimate, you can calculate any additional needs to identify and secure potential sources of forage or alternative feeds that would work for your farm.

For dairy, allocate the highest-quality forage for the milking herd and youngest heifers.

For beef cows, you may choose to save some good-quality forage for calving time.

Late-planted Corn

It may be available. Because of the reduction in corn grain market prices, some farms may find the opportunity to purchase late-planted corn to add to their supply of corn silage. Purchasing fieldsof late-planted corn may be an option for livestock farms, particularly if crop producers are looking to reduce risk when the chances are good that the corn might not mature before a killing frost.

In some cases, farms may have planted beyond the crop insurance planting date requirements, leaving these fields exposed to a huge risk. How to price that crop is always a question that needs to be answered before harvest begins.

One way is to price the forage based on a postharvest forage test and the known quantity of forage harvested.


Pricing Corn Silage

It can be done in a number of ways to closely estimate the amount of silage. Silos and bags are easier to calculate than a pile, but each can be done.

For ease of calculating silage needs, start by estimating wet tons of silage using 65 percent moisture and then adjust from there. What also is best is to set a minimum price floor if using a postharvest test to cover the value of fertility and organic matter.

Along with establishing a price floor, you must consider the harvest cost. Typically, harvest costs average $100 per acre, depending on whether the crop is harvested for silage or grain.

To give a frame of reference between corn grain and corn silage in assessing value, the value of the corn grain per ton of silage is approximately 7 to 8 bushels of corn per wet ton of silage.

Later planting dates will lower the previous estimate. The value of the fodder usually is based on some alternate forage, such as straw or stover. Making this comparison is difficult because the corn plant is much more digestible if harvested at 65 percent moisture than is dry straw or stover.

Comparing that portion to high-quality grass forage would be a better estimate of forage value and a better pricing guide. For more information, visit the University of Minnesota Extension Dairy website.

Sweet Corn Silage  

This type of silage or cannery waste can offer low cost forage alternatives in certain areas of the upper Midwest. Sweet corn silage compares favorably with regular corn silage in feeding value (Table 1). It will be lower in starch, as many of these other forages can be.

With all of these alternative forages, getting digestibility rates and estimations of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and the undigested NDF is a good investment.

However, a potential exists for overestimating energy content of forage if the NDF of the forage digests more slowly than we estimate.

Other Alternate Forages

These could include cover crops that were planted on prevented-plant acres that could be available for harvest after Nov. 1. While these can be risky to rely on, the forage value as harvested or grazed forage can be relatively high.

Pricing these are difficult. Cover crop forages usually will be priced based on how they compare with alfalfa haylage and small-grain silages. In many cases, they will compare favorably with either forage, depending on maturity.

Again, forage tests and estimated yields are critical. For many of these different types of cover crops and alternative forages, a wet chemistry forage test will need to be done to obtain a more accurate forage analysis.

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