The William H. Miner

Agricultural Research Institute

Miner Institute
Farm Report

CORN STARCH DIGESTIBILITY

As stated in last month’s Farm Report, corn silage is not a stable feedstuff; for most of the year after ensiling, it increases in both starch and protein digestibility. Some of the most rapid changes in starch digestibility are occurring right now. Furthermore, by now your silage may have changed enough to require a ration adjustment. This may result in a less expensive ration: If more of the starch in the silage is digestible, that’s less starch (in the form of corn meal or other grains) that you’ll need to buy. But you won’t know this unless you routinely test your corn silage, including digestibility. Work with your dairy nutrition consultant to ensure that your rations represent the quality of what you’re feeding today, not what you were feeding last November.

Even with carryover from the good 2010 crop, almost all farms have finished feeding 2010 corn silage. (Some are depressingly close to feeding out a short 2011 crop!) Even so, something to remember: When you finish feeding “old crop” corn silage and move into the new crop, there may be a meaningful difference in starch digestibility—but in this case lower, not higher. Think back to other times when you switched from one silo of corn silage to the other and the cows dropped in production: Was this because you made the switch too fast, or was it because of lower starch digestibility?

Delaying feeding new crop corn silage until the following calendar year means putting up more than a normal tonnage of corn silage. This can be done all at once, or over several years. You could use a bumper crop year to at least partly accomplish this; you’ll probably make more profit in the long run by building silage inventories than by selling corn out of the field into what is probably a buyer’s market. (If you have a big crop, your neighbors probably do too.) Another option is to plan ahead by planting enough corn for more than 12 months of silage given normal yields. This would be recommended only if you have enough silo capacity — a pile of corn silage sitting in the mud is not a good option! If you can’t plant enough corn for 16 months of feed, then plant enough for 14 months with the eventual goal of not feeding new crop corn silage until January or later. You’ll only need to plant extra corn acreage until you achieve this. And as you’ve already concluded, having an extra few months of corn silage inventory will allow you to sleep better during a poor crop year.

Ev Thomas

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The Miner Institute Farm Report is written primarily for farmers and other agricultural professionals in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. Most articles deal with dairy and crops topics, but also included are articles dealing with environmental issues and global agriculture as well as editorial commentary.

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The William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute
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