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Producer roundtable: Finding the right corn silage fit

Phil Krueger for Progressive Forage Published on 31 August 2017
Green chopping corn

No two dairy operations are the same. Differences in location, milk markets and individual operational goals, plus a wide range of forage options, means producers increasingly are tailoring rations and forages to fit their specific needs.

Every producer I work with has different herd goals, growing seasons, field conditions and facilities in their operation. Along with the rest of the team – agronomists and local dealers – I strive to help our dairy producer customers select and manage the best corn silage fit for their dairy.

We met with a variety of producers across the country to learn what they are doing to achieve higher digestibility, maximum tonnage or the best of both in their corn silage and to meet their operational and herd goals. Here’s what they had to say. 

Adam Robey
Robey Farms
Adairville, Kentucky
2,200 cows
1,200 acres

Jason Sheehan
J & K Dairy
Sunnyside, Washington
2,900 cows
1,000 acres

Randall Holt
Holt Dairy
Hamilton, Utah
5,200 cows
9,500 acres

Ryan Folkema
A & R Farm
Fremont, Michigan
750 cows
900 acres

Chad Minnis
Car-Min-Vu Farm
Webberville, Michigan
1,000 cows
2,000 acres

What type of silage corn do you produce for your farm?

Robey: Ten years ago, we began playing around with BMR (brown mid-rib) corn silage and now dedicate 75 percent of our acres to bm3 BMR. We’ve experienced positive results from our herd over the years, which made it an easy decision to increase the amount of bm3 BMR we plant.

Sheehan: We are continually working with our local nutritionist to test our silage and build a ration balanced with enough digestible fiber and starch. We have been using a dual-purpose corn silage to increase the amount of starch to offset the need to purchase grain.

This year, in efforts to produce a more digestible forage and increase the amount of forage in the ration, we are planting two-thirds of our acres with a bm3 BMR corn silage.

Holt: On our farm, we plant about two-thirds of our 3,000 corn silage acres to bm3 BMR and split the other third between a higher-fiber digestibility silage hybrid and other silage-specific hybrids and separate them out to create tailored rations across the farm based on digestibility and quality to meet our herd goals.

Folkema: We’ve been using TMF [higher-fiber digestibility silage] hybrids over the years due to the advantage in yield and the added value in digestibility as compared with dual-purpose corn silage. As bm3 BMR varieties have become more mainstream, we have transitioned more of our acres to bm3 BMR and dedicate feeding it to our high-producing cow groups.

Now, we typically plant half and half on our fields. We decide on where to plant each hybrid based on soil type. The bm3 BMR corn is planted on the higher-quality ground to ensure a successful crop while the rest is used on the marginal soil that will still produce the yield we need.

Minnis: We do a 50-50 split in our planter of [higher-fiber digestibility silage hybrid] and bm3 BMR silage corn. We plant the two different hybrids side by side to get the best of both worlds when it comes to tonnage and digestibility. Fourteen years ago, production pounds per cow per day for us averaged in the high 60s. Now the cows are reaching the mid-80s as a result of our focus on quality forage and advancements on the farm.

We also participate in plots every year so we can stay ahead of the curve and select the best varieties for our acres and our growing environment. This gives us the opportunity to select high-yielding forages that combine high digestibility.

What are your farm goals and how does your corn silage choice help you meet those goals?

Robey: Historically in our milk market, there has been a premium on volume of milk shipped. Because of that, we have pushed for production and had less emphasis on components. BMR’s high digestibility allows for more dry matter intake and more milk.

Our overall goal is to have the maximum amount of forage while also feeding a consistent, high-quality corn silage. We continue to meet this goal by analyzing feeding results and decoding what ration combinations work the best.

Sheehan: In our region, we are limited in the amount of acres we can farm. Finding the balance between the tonnage we receive from our corn silage acres and meeting our quality standards is top-of-mind to feed our herd.

Holt: We operate with the same thought as many dairies, and that is to maximize the amount of milk produced per acre we farm of corn silage. When it comes down to it, bm3 BMR has the digestibility our cows need to meet that goal.

Folkema: Our overall goal is to create the highest-quality corn silage possible to be used in the ration and, in turn, feed a higher rate of forage. In the past, we were able to pick what we wanted to use and sell what we didn’t. Now, we’re in the process of expanding the dairy, so we run a tighter inventory and are striving for a higher-quality corn silage across the board. We find our bm3 BMR doesn’t need to sit in the bags as long to ferment, and we are able to feed that silage earlier if needed and be more flexible with our silage inventory.

Minnis: We started mixing the two silage-specific, high-fiber digestibility hybrids 14 years ago to get more of everything – increased production, digestibility and tonnage. To further reach our goals of digestibility and production, this year we are storing our bm3 BMR separately to focus on the high-producing groups and creating more tailored rations.

How do you manage silage and forage quality on your farm?

Feed bunks

Robey: Making crucial feed decisions throughout the year starts with a high-quality harvest. Each bag of silage we pack is labeled with a quality and moisture grade. With over 90 bags of silage on the farm, feed management is a top priority when it comes to feeding the herd. We have a strategy of complementing forages by mixing quality as they feed from the bags to maintain a healthy balance in the bulk tank.

Sheehan: Using a dual-purpose corn silage, we have a large focus on harvest practices, such as chop length, kernel processing, packing the silage quickly and allowing 90 days fermentation to maintain a positive response from the herd.

Holt: We have a strong attention to detail when growing, chopping and feeding our corn silage crop. Any hiccup that occurs through the process, whether it’s chop length or managing the face of the silage pile improperly, can reduce the quality of the product being fed to the cows.

We are located in the mountains and have a relatively short growing season due to the altitude. As a result, we plant later in the season to avoid a possible June frost and select hybrids that can mature in a shorter time frame to achieve a high-quality corn silage.

Folkema: We work with our nutritionist to monitor and test corn silage quality throughout the year. At harvest, one field can have different soil types, and that can impact the different quality we experience as we feed from the bag. By monitoring each bag for quality measures, we can adjust the ration as needed.

To ensure a quality ration, we separate each quality level of corn silage into different bags and then tailor rations to fit the needs of different groups around the farm.

Minnis: Since we plant a 50-50 mix of two hybrids, our biggest challenge at harvest is differing maturity rates and moisture levels. We closely monitor moisture levels before harvest to ensure the bm3 BMR doesn’t dry out too much before chopping and storage.

Find your fit

These producers use different silage and come from diverse backgrounds, but all have similar goals in feeding a high-quality corn silage to their herds to achieve optimal production and profitability. With testing, trials and attention to harvest practices, producers across the country can find what works for them and adjust as needed.

Work with your nutritionist, agronomist and seed adviser to ensure your corn silage is helping you meet your goals.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Green chopping corn

PHOTO 2: Feeding silage. Courtesy photos.

Phil Krueger
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