Processing snaplage: A rock and a hard place – Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus

Posted on September 23, 2016 in Forage Foundations
By Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus dairy technical specialist
This past summer, a team of Vita Plus dairy specialists evaluated new laboratory techniques to predict rates of starch digestibility and how to use these rates in ration formulation.  One of our biggest findings was starch digestion rates of snaplage stored for nine to 12 months are fast – too fast in many cases.
For example, the typical starch digestion rate of ground dry corn is 12 percent per hour, but the starch digestion rates in our summer snaplage samples exceeded 30 percent per hour.  We also found milkfat was depressed when snaplage was fed, especially in combination with high corn silage diets.  In some cases, the rate of starch digestion in snaplage was so fast we had to limit snaplage feeding rates to less than 4 pounds per cow per day to regain milkfat test.

So the $64,000 question emerges: What’s the best way to process snaplage to avoid the pitfalls of excessively fast starch digestion rates and milkfat depression the following summer? 

The best answer we found is located somewhere between a rock and a hard place because an optimum processing level probably doesn’t exist.  No matter the degree of processing, starch digestion rates of snaplage will likely be slow in the fall, with kernels of corn in the manure of our dairy cows, and fast next summer, challenging the milkfat test.  That is the nature of the beast known as snaplage because fermentation of corn greater than 40 percent moisture causes starch digestibility to fluctuate and we can’t change its basic biology by processing alone.

Challenges exist for all grains, but snaplage does have many well-defined feed production advantages.  We can use regular corn silage harvesting equipment to harvest snaplage and it can be harvested earlier than dry corn, opening up land earlier for fall manure applications and cover crop plantings.  Harvesting snaplage with corn silage equipment is also faster – and generally more cost effective – than harvesting high moisture corn or dry corn with a combine.

When considering snaplage, the best thing to do is think through individual situations and weigh the options on how to best process it.  Snaplage does not need to be excessively processed due to its higher moisture content, but, like corn silage, no whole kernels should be present in a well-processed snaplage.  Snaplage should be coarsely processed when the storage or feeding period is greater than eight months, especially if harvest temperatures exceed 70 degrees F or it is fed with high corn silage diets.  Coarsely processed snaplage will have cob pieces up to the size of a quarter with a high percentage of quarter kernels and husk and shank material 1 to 3 inches long to promote packing.  Snaplage should be medium or more finely processed if the storage or feeding period is less than eight months.  With medium processing, cob pieces are generally the size of a dime with the grain well-processed, but still yellow in color with a few quarter kernels present and the husk and shank material 1 to 2 inches long.

Finally, one important management practice that often gets overlooked with snaplage: inoculant.  You should inoculate any and all snaplage with a Lactobacillus buchneri 40788 inoculant, like Crop-N-Rich Buchneri.

Why?  Snaplage demands 100-percent aerobic stability to slow down its feeding rate as needed.  Common summer snaplage feeding scenarios involve snaplage heating and milkfat test depression – another rock and hard place management scenario.  When this occurs, we can’t feed less snaplage because it is heating and we can’t feed more snaplage because we have milkfat depression.  Thus, by inoculating snaplage with a L. buchneri inoculant and aiming for 100-percent aerobic stability, more flexible snaplage feeding rates are possible.

Category: Feed quality and nutrition
Forage Foundations
Forage harvesting