“In my nearly 10 years with Rock River Laboratory, I can’t recall a crop shaping out like the one we’re likely going to be seeing, if not already feeding,” shared John Goeser on the December 8 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream.
Goeser, who is based in Wisconsin and has worked with feed samples from across the country, explained that he looks into four numbers when evaluating silage quality: total fiber, total starch, fiber digestibility, and starch digestibility. Together, those values account for about 85% of the feed’s energetic value.
“This rumen starch digestibility is really the unique characteristic of this year’s crop that may give us some fits early on in ensiling and feeding. It may take this year’s crop three or four months longer to feed to its full potential,” he said, describing that corn kernels are especially hard this year.
How did we get here? Though they varied in time and intensity across parts of the country, the temperature and moisture swings of the 2021 growing season affected how corn plants developed.
Goeser reminded that these two factors impact plants together — for better or worse. “We know that heat units and moisture are influential factors relative to the outcome in feed quality and yield. Drought tends to improve fiber digestibility, but it’s detrimental to grain yield,” he said. “Heat units can be a good thing if we do not have moisture relative to forage quality, but it can be a bad thing.”
For the most part, growers had plenty of heat units this year, he continued. The moisture situation was another story, as most of the U.S. experienced fairly dry growing conditions, especially early in the season. “We had drought stress early in the year, and the plant is imprinted probably around V5 or V7,” he said of corn development.
“We were getting quite worried as we were getting into tasseling,” Goeser said. “Fortunately, the water turned on and we got adequate water for most.” That moisture arriving through tasseling, pollination, and grain fill resulted in pretty strong grain yields in his experience in the Midwest.
He added, “What I’m hearing from some grain farmers and feed mills is that bushel weights are up. We had a pretty strong kernel.” That’s good news for handling grain.
“We could probably shoot some of that corn through a quarter-inch plate of steel,” Goeser joked. “That’s great if we’re grain farming. It’s not so great if we’re feeding dairy cattle.”
Letting 2021 corn silage sit and ferment a bit longer than usual if possible depending on a farm’s inventory can provide some more time for those kernels to soften, he advised.
To watch the recording of the December 8 DairyLivestream, go to the link above. The program recording is also available as an audio-only podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and downloadable from the Hoard’s Dairyman website.
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