More silage possible in 2004

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 13, 2004
by WLJ
— Early frosts threaten grain maturity.
— Moisture levels threaten hay prospects.
By Sarah L. Swenson
WLJ Associate Editor

Several western and northern states are wondering if summer ever really arrived or if it spring made a transition directly into fall. With the cooler summer temperatures has also come early frosts, particularly in more northern areas. These frosts have damaged hundreds and thousands of acres of field crops and will definitely have an impact on livestock feed availability going into winter.
Producers in North Dakota seem to be hardest hit by early frosts, but frost damage is seen all across the Midwest. Greg Lardy, a North Dakota State University (NDSU) beef specialist said this year has been challenging, especially for the warm season crops, because it has been so cool.
"We have the drought conditions in the southern part of the state, it was too wet in the Northeast, and then we had our first frost in June and then again on August 19-20," said Lardy. "It's really been an odd year."
Frost affects all field crops differently, and for that matter, not all frosts are the same. Some frosts are killing frosts and plants may still recover. Even across the northern Plains, the frosts that occurred in late August were not as severe in some places as they were in others. Because of the differences, producers will need to evaluate their crops on an individual basis.
Producers struck by killing frosts, below 28 degrees for corn, need to realize their corn is not going to make maturity, and should consider making silage, said Lardy. He said, that decision should be made particularly if they have access to livestock.
"The trick there is just waiting until the moisture gets right to make silage out of it," said Lardy. "A lot of this is still going to be to wet, even now, to make good quality silage out of it, so you're going to have to just sit and wait a little bit."
Proper moisture content is considered by forage experts to have more influence on producing good quality silage than almost any other factor.
Herb Bucholtz and Mike Allen, animal science and dairy nutritionists from Michigan State University say that frost will not adversely affect the quality of corn silage, but putting it up at the wrong moisture content will. The team said that even an early September frost may stop all plant growth and maturity activity, but the crop can still make good corn silage when harvested correctly.
Allen said, "Silage from corn that is only slightly immature may have fiber levels that are close to normal even though the grain content may be considerably lower."
However, because of the lower grain content, producers may need to adjust their rations when feeding frosted-corn silage.
Bucholtz and Allen also noted that when corn freezes it will cause rapid drying and farmers will need to monitor the dry matter and start harvesting when the corn reaches 30 percent dry matter. This may take additional time with frost-damaged corn.
Grazing frost damaged corn that is too wet to ensile, may provide a better means to capture its nutritive value, unless the corn is too wet to make silage. Temporary fencing and rotational grazing is suggested to reduce trampling and waste of standing corn.
For frost-damaged soybeans, Lardy says NDSU is recommending that producers make hay out of it. Soybeans can be ensiled, but he noted that they tend to make better hay than silage.
Dry edible beans that were damaged by frost will make neither either good silage or good hay, according to the NDSU staff. These animal nutrition experts have found that dry edible beans—kidney and pinto beans—have some enzyme inhibitors that will cause digestive problems in cattle.
In the northcentral/northwest part of North Dakota, Lardy said they are seeing frost damage to a lot of small grains, but those crops may still recover. Lardy anticipates many of those producers will be making hay with the more severely frosted fields.
If put up at the right moisture, Lardy says the small grains would also make good quality silage as a second option for utilizing them as feed.
Sunflowers that were frost damaged could be made into silage, the problem with this crop, according to Lardy is it doesn't dry down as well. Therefore, producers will need to put some drier material in the pit with it, anything from dry hay to screenings, dry grain, etc. "You can mix sunflower silage and corn silage together and make a good silage," said Lardy.
"A lot of it you're going to have to wait and see what the crop insurance adjuster says and make sure you get the okay from the farm service agency office before you go ahead and do these things ," said Lardy.
If producers do end up making silage out of frosted crops, Lardy says the trick with all crops is to make sure the moisture is right, pack it very good, and cover it. "Those three things are going to make or break whether you get a decent quality silage or not," said Lardy.
As a final recommendation, Lardy says producers can use a forage inoculant. Inoculants will populate the ensiled material with the correct microbial population for fermentation and/or help expedite fermentation. Lardy also says that inoculants tend to work better when forage making conditions aren't the best, as with this year. — WLJ