By Linda Geist
Farmers are looking to drought-stressed corn for silage and balage to stretch limited hay supplies.
Chopped corn silage offers beef producers better options than balage, says University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Gene Schmitz.
Silage allows better control of the amount of high-energy feed for wintering cattle, Schmitz says. Balage offers less flexibility and control of portion size.
“From a diet perspective, we generally limit corn silage for beef cows to somewhere between 20 to 60 percent of diet dry matter, depending upon the stage of production, body condition and energy content of the silage,” he says.
This prevents cattle from getting too fat and avoids unnecessary feeding costs.
“It’s almost impossible to limit-feed a bale of corn silage unless it is tub-ground and mixed with grass hay and/or other feed ingredients,” Schmitz says. “I think it is important to understand this limitation, especially if the silage is carrying some nitrate with it.”
Schmitz says the best silage is finely chopped and tightly packed to get rid of excess oxygen. Cover immediately to protect against the elements, which cause spoilage and nutrient loss. Chop corn when it is still green. Moisture levels must be high enough, generally 60 to 70 percent, for corn to ferment properly. But it should not be too high because then it would become prone to seepage and bacteria.
Pile silage on the ground and pack from all sides to feed, Schmitz says. Avoid putting silage in a hay “bunker” made out of round bales. It is difficult to rid the silage of oxygen in uncovered bunkers made of bales. Using bale bunkers leads to inadequate packing, shifting of bales during packing and possible tractor rollovers, he says.
Schmitz recommends that farmers who want to chop or bale corn should have the corn tested for nitrates at their county MU Extension center. High nitrate content leads to nitrate poisoning in ruminants. He also recommends testing silage for nutrient content and nitrates before feeding.