Despite challenging growing conditions, 2011 corn silage proving to be good dairy feed

Nutritionists and producers feeding 2011 corn silage are reporting good milk yield and milk components

Each winter the team of Michigan State University (MSU) Extension dairy nutritionists hosts a series of Nutrition Roundtable meetings for dairy nutritionists practicing in Michigan and northern Indiana. During December 2011, five meetings were held across the state. At the meetings, we discussed a variety of current topics, new products, and new nutrition research. The feed value and nutritional make-up of the 2011 corn silage crop was discussed in-depth during the meetings.

Last year, 2011, was unique in most areas of Michigan in that there were two different plantings due to heavy rains – one in early May and one in early June. Despite poor planting conditions and questionable growing conditions throughout the state, most producers and nutritionist are reporting average to good yields and good quality. Typically, when producers switch to new corn silage in early winter, milk production drops due to low digestibility of the corn grain before it is fully fermented. However, this winter, many nutritionists are reporting steady to higher milk yield with typical seasonal gains in milk components. Although few had tested corn silage samples for NDF digestibility prior to the nutrition roundtable meetings, the milk gains could be from increased NDF digestibility along with lower overall NDF and higher starch content.

These field reports are consistent with the information published in the MSU Corn Silage Variety Trials. For example, if we compare the 2011 tested variety averages against the 2 year averages, yield was up in every zone with some areas up over 1 dry matter (DM) ton/acre higher than the two year average. While the average neutral detergent fiber (NDF), a measure of digestibility, was relatively unchanged this year compared to the 2 year average, the amount of NDF in the silage was less in the 2011 crop. In addition, the silage this year appears to have more grain in it than average, as measured by the starch content.

For producers that are purchasing corn grain, having high grain content in the corn silage can help to reduce feed costs. On many farms, the amount of forage in the diet may be increased to maintain healthy a healthy rumen environment. Due to hay shortages throughout the country and rising hay prices, the forage increases may come primarily from corn silage. Care should be taken to monitor corn silage use throughout the year so that there is not a shortage next fall. In addition, the high starch content of the silage may cause ruminal upsets when the silage is fully fermented if not carefully monitored.

Look for more articles covering topics from the 2011 Nutrition Roundtable meetings coming soon. To learn more about dairy nutrition, consider attending “Nutrition Basics for Dairy Farmers and Employees” March 13 and 20, 2012 in Coopersville, Mich and March 15 and 23 in Ithaca, Mich. Contact Faith Cullens at or 517-388-1078 for more details.

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