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Researchers share findings on silage, other feedstuff options

Cutting it close

Dale Christensen, who was working with Beresford-area producer Todd Vanderlaan, cuts silage Sept. 13 in a field about 10 miles northwest of Beresford. Escorting Christensen in the truck is Ron Weyen of Alcester, a retired farmer who has worked for the Vanderlaan operation for several years. The silage will be used as feed in the Vanderlaan family’s 3,000-head cattle operation.

Producers attending one of three beef feedlot roundtables in Nebraska had plenty of feedstuff options to review after hearing research reports from Extension specialists and University of Nebraska-Lincoln staff.

Galen Erickson, animal science professor at UNL, discussed the use of silage in two applications, first for finishing cattle and as a roughage source for growing and backgrounding cattle.

“Historically, when corn prices go up, silage is something that is more cost comparative. But today there is interest in how it works with byproducts. Every crop year, producers need to be making choices on what ingredients will be most cost effective,” he said.

Corn silage fits well in integrated cattle-crop operations and provides high-moisture corn along with retaining solubles in the plant. It is also a way to use residue in drought-damaged corn, he noted.

Use of silage in both growing and finishing rations in cattle is nothing new, as the professor cited Minnesota research dating from 1974. What is tricky is figuring input costs, he said.

“Silage pricing isn’t easy. How much moisture is in it impacts cost per ton for dry matter. In other words, dry matter matters. It is cheaper to cut, haul and pack silage the higher the dry matter,” Erickson said.

On average, it is cheaper to cut silage, as you don’t have to haul grain to market, he noted. But there are tradeoffs.

“On one hand, if I cut silage, it’s $50 an acre cheaper than harvesting the grain, but offsetting that is the nutrient value of the residue lost.”

However, if the operator has feedlot manure to put on a field, that nutrient value is easily replaced.

When considering when to harvest the silage and how much to harvest, Erickson said, “We are finding 37 percent dry matter, or silage at 63 percent moisture, appears to be ideal. We don’t have any other research to contradict this. While everybody should measure shrink, most people don’t. Tons in and out won’t cut it; you have to account for moisture change as well. If you don’t monitor shrink, you won’t have enough silage to feed for as long as you want, and you will undercharge the cost to the cattle.”

It is also important to have silage well packed and covered to ensure the best possible quality, he added.

“Performance is important in terms of average daily gain and feed efficiency, but profitability is more important. Silage works well in combination with distillers grains.”

Matt Luebbe, a feedlot nutrition and management specialist from the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, compared three studies done on corn with the alpha-amylase enzyme and how that affects starch digestion in cattle.

Syngenta developed alpha amylase corn for use in the ethanol industry. However, UNL researchers have spent the past three years studying its effectiveness in the finishing diets of cattle.

“Use of alpha amylase can help with increased starch digestion in the rumen, but feedlots must be careful not to increase the speed of digestion to the point that acidosis results,” he said. “From these three studies, we know we’re getting an improvement in performance, but we are still looking at the best feed combinations with the corn.”

A fourth study they have been working on deals with using alpha amylase corn in feed trials with ruminally and duodenally fistulated steers.

“We are not seeing a large variance in digestibility in the rumen, but definitely see improved digestibility in the small intestine,” Luebbe said.

“Feeding the Syngenta corn with by-products, we have had mixed results. However, if acidosis can be controlled, then producers can optimize performance in feeding this new corn hybrid,” the researcher said.

The final researcher to address feedstuffs during the roundtable was Dan Loy from the Iowa Beef Center, associated with Iowa State University. He joined the meeting via an Internet hookup to share work that has focused on changes in distillers grains and how that affects the feedlot industry.

The Beef Center has found that changes in the oil content of distillers grains, depending on the method of oil extraction, can affect the net energy for gain, or NEg, Loy said.

“While there is not a lot of difference in the fiber content between oil extraction methods, there is a difference in dry matter and oil content,” he said. The bottom line is that one can expect a reduction in cattle performance with lower fat content in distillers grains, Loy said.

The Iowa researcher said their next project is a study conducted with distillers grains from a secondary fermentation process – cellulosic ethanol. The feedlot performance trial showed that distillers grains are superior to corn in feed value and energy content, but cellulosic distillers grains are an effective substitute for corn.

For the cattle industry, the changes in feed values of distillers grains will depend on economics determined by energy prices and policy, Loy said. However, he concluded, with routine feed analysis, communication and proper ration formulation, distillers grains still can have an economic advantage.

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