Fall Forage Harvesting

URBANA, US - As fall approaches, a University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist has outlined three scenarios for the harvesting of forage, writes Bob Sampson.
calendar icon 21 August 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

"We have plenty of late-planted corn and soybeans which could be nipped by an early frost," said Mike Hutjens. "It is important that dairy producers understand the alternatives and strategies should this occur."

The first scenario involves late-corn silage. The main differences will be yield (tons of dry matter per acre) and starch content.

"Allowing the corn crop to try to reach optimal maturity is recommended."
Mike Hutjens

"Allowing the corn crop to try to reach optimal maturity is recommended. Wait to harvest as long as the plant is growing," he said. "Growing degree days in the fall and a killing frost will be factors that determine how mature your corn is when harvested."

Harvested immature corn silage at 30 to 34 percent dry matter should be stored in bags, bunkers and piles. Drier silage (35 to 40 percent dry matter) should be kept in vertical structures depending on height and diameter of the silo to minimize seepage losses.

Key factors in determining whether to use this alternative will be the price to pay for the standing corn crop, harvesting costs (lower yields and wet conditions can be higher), and potential higher storage losses from seepage and fermentation.

"When pricing standing corn silage, estimate or weigh the dry matter harvested--weighing silage box or truck loads, for example--and agree on price per ton, such as $45 a ton for 33 percent dry matter," he said. "If the silage is wetter--do not buy water--or lower in starch content, the price needs to be lowered."

Testing the immature corn silage for starch, neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF) lignin, soluble nitrogen, and NDF digestibility (NDFD) will allow for optimal ration balancing," Hutjens said. "Sugar content and NDFD may be improved as the stalk will not contain as much indigestible fiber and sugars are not converted to starch."

Another scenario involves immature corn grain that might be available in some areas.

"Immature corn harvested as high moisture corn is an excellent grain alternative for dairy and beef cattle. It avoids high drying costs, allows for earlier harvest, and minimizes ear drop and weather risks," he said.

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