So the Corn is Dry, Now What?

I have received many phone calls asking about the optimal time to chop corn silage based on moisture.  Unfortunately, this late in the chopping season, most corn crops are too dry to meet the guideline of between 33-38% dry matter as covered at the Silage for Beef Cattle 2018 Conference.  A lot of the green chop sample that have been analyzed here at Ward Laboratories, Inc. in the past week have been closer to 50% dry matter!

There are several reasons it is recommended to chop corn silage at a lower dry matter and higher moisture content.  First, nutritionally an immature plant will have a higher moisture content, and lower fiber content and higher relative feed value and available energy to the animal. Conversely, as plant maturity increases and moisture content decreases, acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber increase resulting in lowered relative feed value and less available energy to the animal.  The longer the crop stands in the field and dry, the less palatable it becomes, and animals consume less.   In addition to consuming less of the silage, drier corn plants mean harder corn grains making the starch less available to the animal for energy.  So, the animal is consuming an insufficient amount of a low energy feed due to gut fill and digestibility constraints.  Second, when silage is chopped dry it doesn’t pack densely and leaves room for oxygen. The aerobic environment invites unwanted molds and toxins into the silage pile.  Here are several options to correct for moisture when packing dry corn silage:

 

  1. Add moisture back. The most obvious answer is to add water to the silage pile. This might be trickier and less feasible than it seems.  The recommendation is to add four gallons of water per ton of silage for every 1 percent raise in moisture content desired.  It is important to add the water as you pack the silage because if it does not properly infiltrate the chopped silage it will result in seepage and loss of nutrients and will not result in the desired anaerobic environment to prevent mold and spoilage.  Some amount of moisture can also be added back in the form of liquid inoculants.

 

  1. Use a finer chopping length. Chopping the whole corn plants into smaller pieces in combination with through packing procedures can allow for denser packing. Smaller pieces pack tighter together and allow for less oxygen infiltration and thereby less mold and mycotoxin issues.

 

  1. Mix in other wetter forages. By mixing in other wetter forages such as freshly chopped alfalfa or sudan, the overall weight and moisture of the silage pile will increase making packing more efficient and again reducing the presence of oxygen and mold.

 

  1. Consider other options such as snaplage, earlage, or high moisture corn. Snaplage can be ensiled when the whole plant dry matter is between 60-65 % and kernel dry matter is between 66-72%. High moisture corn can be ensiled with the kernel is between 70-74% dry matter.

 

As with any silage, it is important to always pack thoroughly, cover with anaerobic plastic and allow to ensile for 90 to 120 days.  Once the ensiling process is complete consider sending a sample to Ward Laboratories, Inc.  to test for nutritional values, mold count, pH, and aflatoxin.

Non-Protein Nitrogen and Soybeans: a Deadly Combination

Every once in awhile I get asked if soybean plants or stubble should be tested for nitrates.  Soybeans are legumes like alfalfa, and like alfalfa, under stressed conditions can accumulate a toxic concentration of nitrates.  Soybeans are listed as nitrate accumulators by the Iowa Beef Canter.  Therefore, if you are having doubts, send a sample to Ward Laboratories, Inc. for a test to make the best possible feeding decision.  Having received inquiries about nitrates in soybeans, I was reminded of a cow that got out into a soybean field and died of suspected nitrate poisoning last year.  However, when the soybean plants were tested, low nitrate concentrations were found.  Upon review of the animal’s diet history, non-protein nitrogen was consumed before the cow got out into the bean field.  Concluding that the more likely cause of death in the case of that specific cow was non-protein nitrogen poisoning.

Non-protein nitrogen poisoning occurs when the urea cycle is overloaded.  First, the ruminant animal consumes non-protein nitrogen typically in the form of urea in a supplemental feed.  If fed at high concentrations urea itself can be toxic.  Once in the rumen, urease produced by rumen microbes converts the urea to ammonia.  Ammonia is a form of nitrogen that microbes can use to produce amino acids and ultimately protein for their own population growth and production.  When too much ammonia is present in the rumen, it is absorbed through rumen epithelia and transported through the blood stream to the liver.  In the liver, ammonia is converted back to urea and transported to the kidneys for excretion.  When the kidneys are overloaded with urea and ammonia it continues to circulate around the body in the blood stream.  As a result, animals begin to have facial muscle spasms, frothy salivation, bloat or abdominal pain, labored breathing, frequent urination and weak staggered walking.  Often urea poisoning results in death.

UreaPoisioning

So, what does this have to do with a cow getting out in a bean field?  Soybeans produce the enzyme urease.  When a ruminant animal consumes urea in combination with raw soybeans, the concentration of enzyme is no longer a limiting factor in the rate that urea is converted to ammonia.  The rumen microbes can not keep up and the urea cycle becomes overloaded with ammonia and urea circulating in the blood stream even though the animal did not consume toxic levels of non-protein nitrogen.

This is one of the reasons why soybean meal is often sent to Ward Laboratories, Inc to check the activity level of the urease enzyme.  Soybean meal is processed and heated to high temperatures denaturing or melting the enzyme, thereby deactivating it.  So, if you plan to feed whole soybeans, which can be a great source of crude protein (approximately 40% crude protein on a dry basis) either ensure they have been heat treated or do not also feed a non-protein nitrogen supplement.  Additionally, do not feed a supplement containing urea when feeding a baled soybean stubble containing lots of leftover beans, ensiled soybeans or if cattle are grazing a cover crop mix which includes soybeans. Soybeans and urea rarely cross paths because both are used as protein sources, but when they do death losses are likely to occur.

soy-998566_960_720

Use a Sharp Pencil for Protein and Profits

Last week, I attended the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory 19th Annual Open House.  There, agricultural economist Jim Robb touched on the hardships of the drought and forage and pasture availability but drove home the importance of affordable protein supplementation.

Jim Robb showed that corn prices have remained steady and are projected to continue along that trend.  Dried distillers’ grains (DDG), which have become increasingly common as an on pasture protein supplementation, are projected to increase in price in the coming year.  The average protein content of DDGS is about 30% on a dry basis.  Robb, then went on to point out that the price of whole soybeans has decreased with the trade and tariff turmoil leaving soybean meal (SBM) overpriced. Robb suggested that this showed SBM will likely decrease in price making it a more affordable option for protein supplementation.  The average protein content of whole soybeans is 40% on a dry basis.  The protein content of SBM can range from 53-45% on a dry basis depending on processing technique.  In southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma where the cotton crop was large this year, producers have already began feeding whole cotton seeds and cotton seed meal as a cheaper available option for protein supplementation.  The crude protein content of whole cotton seeds and cotton seed meal is about 23% and  45% protein on a dry basis respectively. Robb expects these cotton sources will be shipped and available further north soon.

Jim Robb advised producers to put a sharp pencil to paper when determining their protein supplementation programs for the winter this year.  Not only does this include comparing the prices of each available feed, but the nutrients as well.  To determine the most profitable scheme, producers should test their forage sources.  Using the nutritional information from the forage report and the extimated dry matter intake for the class of animal to be fed, compare the amount available protein supplements needs as it will vary due to differences in protein content as well as the overall price to supplement. Choose the cheapest possible option and avoid over or under supplementation.  Ward Laboratories Inc. can assist with all your forage and supplemental feed testing needs and questions in the coming months.  Testing forages to determine supplementation strategies typical results in more profit.

Rain is a Tricky Thing

We’ve all heard the Luke Bryan song “Rain is a Good Thing”. While it may be a catchy lyric, lack of rain can cause livestock producers to suffer from drought and heat stress issues, while too much rain can leave farmers dealing with flood damage.  This year has been especially testing from those aspects.  The southwest is on fire.  Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and areas of Texas, Kansas and Missouri are suffering from extreme drought and wildfires with surrounding areas battling through severe and moderate drought conditions.

DroughtMapJuly19
http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap.aspx

In contrast, there have been 6 major flooding events due to excessive rain which have been declared disaster states this summer.  There is no denying drought is difficult to handle, but flooding can be just as destructive with obstacles of its own.

flood timeline

To summarize the timeline above:

  • May 30 – Tropical Storm Alberto’s heavy rainfall lead to flash flooding in 10 southeastern states.
  • June 18 – Heavy rainfall in a short period of time lead to flooding mostly affecting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and parts of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • June 20 – Heavy rainfall resulted in river levels rising and floods in northwest Iowa and southeastern South Dakota.
  • June 21 – Some areas of Texas received more than 10 inches of rain in a 48-hour period resulting in flooding.
  • July 3 – Torrential rains resulted in flooding in southern Minnesota.
  • July 17- Heavy rain resulted in flash flooding in Washington D.C. and Massachusetts.

Rain resulting in flooding has several destructive effects on agriculture.  First, damage to infrastructure such as roadways and powerlines.  Dirt and gravel roads may get washed away during a flood, which will limit a livestock producer from checking and accessing animals.  In the event of an evacuation often the animals are unfortunately left to fend for themselves.  It is a challenge to put those access points back in place to get any operation up and running after the flooding.  There will likely be damage to other assets as well such as outbuildings and machinery.

Second, the flood waters may carry sand and other debris with it.  This debris will settle on top of fields and may result in a barrier to the soil, creating a challenge when trying to plant crops or maintain a pasture.  Removing the debris and sand can be financially exhaustive and labor intensive.

Third, heavy rainfall producing floods will likely erode the soil and carry away valuable top soil.  The erosion itself, will leave gaps and divots in fields making the next planting season more difficult with new obstacles in fields.  The loss of top soil means the soil in the field will have less nutrients and likely will have lost aspects related to a healthy soil including structure and beneficial microorganism populations such as mycorrhizal fungi.  It will be important for crop producers and pasture managers to consult with soil health experts such as Lance Gunderson or Emily Shafto at Ward Laboratories Inc. to replenish nutrients and rebuild soil health after a flooding event.

Fourth, if there were standing crops or forages in a field during a significant rain and flood event, those crops and forages likely are damaged.  Powerful rains and hail can physically damage plants.  Therefore, if harvesting for grain or planning to feed these crops or forages mold and mycotoxins should be tested.  Additionally, corn, sorghum, oats, and other nitrate accumulating forages should be tested for nitrates due to the additional stress from flooding.

Finally, field operations may be hindered.  Planting, and harvesting of crops may be delayed due to wet sloppy fields.  If the areas affected produce hay, harvesting, drying and baling all present unique obstacles.

In conclusion, rain is not always a good thing.  Too little leaves us with droughts and too much results in devastating floods.  Always consider the obstacles of these disastrous events and make a plan before they happen to avoid panic when natural disasters occur.

More Resources:

Flood List

Farming After Flooding 

The Impact of Extreme Weather Events on Agriculture in the United States

iGrow Flood Resources

 

Do I Need to Test For Nitrates?

Last week I attended both the Colorado Cattlemen’s Annual Convention and the Sandhills Ranch Expo at the Ward Laboratories Inc tradeshow booths.  At both locations, producers had concerns about nitrates.  The climate and weather however were contrasting conditions.  Colorado producers wondered how drought stress might affect the nitrate levels in their forages, while Nebraska and South Dakota producers were concerned if too much precipitation might have affect nitrate levels in forages.  Here are 5 factors that affect how nitrates accumulate in forages.

  1. Plant Species

Some plant species accumulate nitrates more than others.  These species should be tested for nitrates regularly before feeding to animals.  These species are: sorghum (milo), sudan grass, millet, oats, johnson grass, broadleaf weeds, corn and sunflowers.  There are other species which also accumulate nitrates but not to the same extent as those listed above: wheat, rye, and triticale fall into these categories.  Finally, under extreme stress alfalfa and soybeans can accumulate nitrates, however the stress must be extensive, and this situation is very rare.

  1. Maturity of the Plant

Young plants and regrowth take up nitrogen from the soil faster than it can be converted to protein.  Older more mature plants take up nitrogen at a slower rate and have had plenty of time to convert nitrogen to protein.  Therefore, younger plants and regrowth tend to accumulate more nitrates than older mature plants.

  1. Plant Part

The lower 1/3 of the stock of the plant is where the most nitrates are stored.  Leaves and stems do not store nitrates in the plant. When grazing, leaving the last third of the stock might be a good idea to avoid any nitrate toxicity issues.

  1. Environmental Conditions

Stress due to weather or climate may increase nitrate accumulation.  During drought stress, the plant may be able to take up nitrogen but not have enough moisture to convert it to protein.  On the other hand, coming out of a drought a dramatic increase in moisture may cause the plant to take up more nitrogen than it can convert to protein in a timely fashion.  Frost and freezing temperatures also cause stress to the plant and nitrate accumulation.

  1. Management

Nitrogen fertilization is a common cause of nitrate accumulation in forages.  Nitrogen fertilization may increase yield, but it also increases risk of nitrate toxicities.

Nitrates are tricky.  I often run into producers who want to tell me their situation and management practices and ask if they need to test.  The truth is no one can determine the nitrate levels based on an antidote.  Testing is the only way to have full confidence.  If there are concerns, send forage samples to Ward Laboratories, Inc for a nitrates test and use the table below as a guide to interpert your report.

Nitrates

Silage for Beef Cattle 2018 Conference

Last week I attended the Silage for Beef Cattle Conference in Mead, NE.  For those of you who put up corn silage, or provide advice for those who do I would highly recommend listening to the online uploads from this conference as well as looking over the proceedings. Here are 8 key concepts I took away from the conference:

  1. Processing is crucial.

Processing of the grain is very important to the digestibility and therefore, energy availability of the corn silage.  It is recommended that there should not be a single intact corn kernel in the final silage product.  To monitor this, separate the forage portion of the silage from the grain and then closely inspect the grain.  Adequate and consistent monitoring through the chopping process is key.

  1. Determining when to harvest is difficult and varies by operation.

As the plant matures fiber increases, kernel hardness increases thereby decreasing the digestibility of the forage and starch portions of the plant.  However, at a more immature stage less corn kernels are present, and the moisture of the plant is too high for ensiling.  Therefore, the recommendation was to harvest a week before or at black layer when the dry matter content of the green chop is between 33 – 38%.  However, the best practices may differ from operation to operation.

  1. Ensiling time is important.

As fermentation time increases, starch digestibility also increases.  For the fermentation to go to completion, it is recommended to ensile at least 90 days, but 120 days would be optimal.

  1. Packing is key to minimize shrink and prevent spoilage.

Delayed packing increases risk of yeast and mold spoilage.  It is also important to pack with enough weight and consistency.  Check out this packing density calculator from University of Wisconsin extension.

  1. Proper covering is also key to prevent shrink and spoilage.

O2 barrier plastics are the best option for covering, however polyethylene coverings are also an option with about a 5% difference in dry matter recovery.

  1. There are lots of ways ensiling can go wrong.

Silage contaminants can come from many different sources including soil, damages plants from hail or insects, manure, wildlife, rodents and birds.  These contaminants can include infectious microorganism such as salmonella, listeria, clostridia and toxin producing molds or undesirable fermentation by-products such as toxic amines or ammonia.

  1. Feeding spoiled corn silage at any inclusion rate is detrimental to rumen health.

Both dry matter intake and digestibility of neutral detergent fiber decrease when spoiled corn silage is included in the diet.  Additionally, when cannulated cattle were examined, the forage mat in the rumen was completely destroyed, again at any inclusion rate of spoiled corn silage.

  1. Producers can determine if they have aerobic deterioration of silage on farm.

At Ward Laboratories, Inc, I often suggest producers who are unsure of their silage to test both mold count and pH.  On farm producers can take the temperature of the center of the pile and other outer locations.  Moldy spots will be 20-30°F hotter, with up to 8 times the coliform forming units of mold than the core of the pile.

Again, this is a snapshot of the important information shared at the corn silage conference.  Check out the online uploads and consider sending your silage samples to Ward Laboratories Inc. to test for nutrient contents, pH, moisture and mold count.

Test Forage Make More Money!

Soon we will be entering forage grazing and harvesting season. Although many producers test their hay or silages when buying and selling, there is still a group who either only test for nitrate when they believe they may be having an issue or do not bother to test at all.  There are many benefits to testing feed, such as improving animal health and production, but a major benefit from a business perspective is the potential to improve profitability.  Testing forages can help producers improve their bottom line.

I have attended several conferences where Dr. Aaron Berger from University of Nebraska Lincoln has spoken about profitability and costs to ranches.  The first point Dr. Berger always drives home is the unit cost of production.  It is important to keep track of all input costs to each enterprise on an operation to know what is profitable and what is losing money.  It is also a helpful tool to see where improvements can be made.  In his presentations, Dr. Berger also points out that the number one cost to produce beef cattle is feed.  Therefore, improvement in feed cost would increase profitability.  This can be done through selecting for cattle that consume less feed and gain the same, sourcing cheaper feed, and precise ration and diet formulations.

Precise ration and diet formulations improve profitability by reducing the occurrence of over or under supplementation to reach animal production goals.  To produce a precise and accurate ration or diet, forage testing must be done, otherwise producers are just guessing about the nutrient content of the forage.  Forages are variable plant material.  As the feed and NIR reviewer at Ward Laboratories Inc., I have seen alfalfa hays and grasses vary from a crude protein level of about 15% to 25% and 4% to 18% on a dry basis respectively.  The fiber content of various forages is also variable.  Acid detergent fiber (ADF) is used to calculate the total digestible nutrients (TDN) of the feed, so variation in ADF affects energy supplementation.  Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) affects how much of a forage or hay the animal will consume.  Minerals are also variable in forages and obtaining an idea of the mineral content may also affect mineral supplementation strategies, such as which mineral to feed or possibly creating a custom mineral mix.  If you would like to learn more about forage variability read Quarrels About Quality: 14 Sources of Variation in Forage and Hay Testing.

Testing hay and forage to formulate rations and diets can reduce underfeeding and overfeeding of animals.  When a producer overestimates the nutritional value of his forage, it can negatively affect the animal’s health.  Thereby impacting performance, reducing reproduction rates, decreasing lactation, or growth.  While the feed cost of an overestimated diet is lower, not meeting the nutritional requirements of that animal results in reduced performance and impacts the producer’s profitability.  An oversetimated nutitional value mresults in less protift. When a producer underestimates the nutritional value of a feed, overfeeding the animals results in increased feed costs and decreased profitability.  Additionally, if overfeeding is extreme, cows can become obese, which also can negatively impact reproductive performance.   In the case of underestimating a forage’s nutritional value, the cost of a NIR forage test ($15) at Ward Laboratories, Inc. is quickly made up in feed costs in just a few days of feeding.

 

So, to improve profitability, at a minimum forage testing is a necessity.  If cattle are grazing a pasture, crop residue, or cover crops, there is variation and a simple NIR test can provide information to make an informed supplementation strategy.  If cattle are consuming a total mixed ration, I would advocate to test all ingredients for the most profitable feeding ration possible with those ingredients.  Using feed testing to make decisions can increase an operations profitability through meeting animal nutrient requirements and therefore performance goals, as well as not wasting feed and money overfeeding animals.

Here are some other resources if you are still doubting the merit in hay testing for profit:

Test, Don’t Guess

The Importance of Forage Testing

Profit Tip: Understanding a Forage Analysis

There’s Money in Testing Your Stalks and Hay

A $50 Hay Test Can Save Producers Money