Choose your corn silage hybrid like you choose your steak

Posted on November 7, 2011 in Dairy Performance
By John Goeser Corn silage quality has a profound impact on your dairy’s profitability.  Highly digestible hybrids reduce your need for corn grain, and everyone understands the value of that in today’s markets.  So how do you choose the right hybrid?  The same way you choose your favorite steak. When you sink your teeth into a piece of steak, the differences between USDA Standard and Prime grade are quite obvious.  You can save several dollars by ordering a Select rib eye, but the quality is marginal, marbling is less than ideal, and you walk away feeling unsatisfied. We see those same differences in corn silages when it comes to dairy ration quality.  We can choose a Standard steak, which is comparable to bargain seed genetics.  Or we can seek out the Prime steak that leaves us with a full and satisfied feeling of a better return on our investment.  So how do you search across brands to find those “Prime” genetics? Look for quality and let yield take the back seat. Let me qualify that statement.  Yield is important, so don’t ignore it.  If your land base is limited or the chop/combine decision is made later in the season, you may opt to prioritize in favor of higher yield.  However, the primary characteristic to seek in corn silage is “Prime” digestibility.  Here are the characteristics I specifically look for in order of importance:

  1. Low NDF – Fiber is the least digestible part of the plant.  Minimize NDF and maximize digestibility by choosing the right seed.  Think of it like this.  A cow is like a milk carton.  You can only fit 8 ounces of milk in the carton.  Likewise, you can only feed so much forage fiber to a cow.  If you fill her up with a lot of fiber, you end up feeding much less energy and, thus, lose out on milk production.  Look specifically at these items:
    1. High starch – Choosing low NDF hybrids will get you higher starch.
    2. High NDFd – A 1-percent increase in fiber digestibility means a 0.5 lb. more milk/cow/day.
  2. High yield – Look for yield that will suit your needs.  If you’re limited by land base, stick to the top 25 percent yielding varieties.

Use independent quality and yield trials. If you’re choosing a steak, whose opinion is less biased – the restaurant owner or a newspaper food critic?  You’d probably lean toward the food critic, right?  Several North American universities and independent producer groups (check out the F.I.R.S.T. trials) offer unbiased yield and quality trials each year.  Usually, you can find the information online (check your local extension websites).  This is valuable because it allows you to compare Company A to Company B.  Here are two important things to consider:

Locations – Look for seed that’s been tested in several different fields (not just one plot), ideally in a soil and climate similar to yours.

Plot results may be old news – The average hybrid lifespan is three years, so the best ranking hybrid from last year may be second place this year.  Ask your seed sales representative about new genetics from the same parental line as last year’s top ranking hybrids.

Still think it’s confusing?  Choosing the right seed can be complicated, especially when you start comparing hybrids across environments to see powerful trends in genetic performance.  That’s where we come in.  Vita Plus consultants have access to an up-to-date database that can help you sort through the hundreds of hybrids out there and make the best decision for your dairy.  Give us a call and we’ll help you find the “Prime steak” you’re looking for! About the author: Dr. John Goeser, formerly with Vita Plus, works with Rock River Laboratory, Inc.  He grew up on his family’s 1,200-cow dairy in eastern Wisconsin.  He earned master’s degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in both plant breeding and genetics and dairy nutrition.  His researched produced a better understanding of how corn silage genetics influence dairy cattle productivity.  He went on to earn his PhD in dairy nutrition and spent five years in research at the university.  His doctorate research developed an improved method for measuring fiber digestibility, which UW-Madison patented and is now being used commercially.

Category: Crop varieties
Dairy Performance