There’s a decided advantage to utilizing corn as silage despite high corn grain prices, according to University of Wisconsin Extension farm management specialist Bruce Jones.

His paper, “Potential Economic Advantages of Corn Silage Over Hay as Forage in Dairy Cow Rations,” indicates a decided economic advantage to corn silage. Even though corn silage is no longer cheap – as with most other forage and grain options – it is still a very economical forage under many, if not most, production scenarios.

A new decision-making tool that can show that advantage is now available for dairy producers who grow their own feed. The Corn Silage:Hay Economics Calculator allows a producer to input up-to-date feed values, cost of production per acre, comparative yields, production per cow and the planned ration corn silage:hay forage mix to test the corn silage advantage. Sensitivity analysis allows the comparison of economic advantage over a range of yield and pricing situations. A comparison to either all corn silage or hay forage is also made.

A recent analysis utilizing the tool indicates a $548/acre economic advantage to producing and feeding corn silage vs. hay to a 30,000-lb/cow herd. Assumptions included corn silage yielding 17 tons/acre as fed, 180-bu corn grain and hay yield of 3.8 tons/acre as fed; $500/acre corn production costs and corn grain and soybean oil meal (SBOM) values at $7/bu and $360/ton, respectively. The tool balances a ration based on the forage, comparing the cost of forage options. Thus, the values of grain and SBOM fed are accounted for.

The corn silage economic advantage holds when comparing a range of corn-grain prices to various corn silage yields until grain yield exceeds 150 bu and silage yield drops to 11 tons/acre. Both higher-valued grain and lower-yielding corn silage eventually erases the corn silage advantage. However, even at 261-bu/acre grain, corn silage only needs to yield 15 tons/acre to regain the economic advantage.

Although the value of corn silage has ballooned from around $35 to $85/ton, it is still an economical feed for lactating dairy cows under most production scenarios compared to hay for those who grow their own feed and have the option of selling or feeding grain.

Exceptions may include soil conditions or short growing seasons where corn production is less than optimal as compared to hay. Dairy producers in parts of Wisconsin where the prospect of grain production is slight may still find corn silage competitive to hay production unless a market for excess production is either not available or will not offset the growing/purchase of other feeds