Snaplage is a viable option as the grain quotient in a dairy diet. Yet combining it with a little dry corn makes it even more a winner.

That’s according to just-released results of a University of Wisconsin (UW) feeding trial comparing all snaplage, all high-moisture shelled corn (HMSC) and two-thirds snaplage plus one-third dry corn treatments.

“In terms of milk production, the cows did well in all of the treatments,” says Randy Shaver, the UW Extension dairy nutritionist who conducted the trial. “But for some reason, with the all-snaplage treatment, we did see some depression of milkfat percentage that we didn’t see with the snaplage plus dry corn.”

Shaver wanted to see if nutritionists’ concerns that there wasn’t enough energy in snaplage – consisting of kernels, cobs, husks and shanks harvested with a forage chopper equipped with a snapper head and kernel processor – were valid.

“We’ve had a lot of questions from dairy cattle feeders and some custom operators about whether this is a good fit,” he says. “It’s kind of logical from a harvest standpoint. The equipment is available and you just put that combine head on. Once they go through, kernels are processed because there’s a roller mill in those choppers. When you get to the bunk or the bag, you don’t have to further process it.”

In the past, snaplage, also called earlage, was blown into upright silos, which tended to separate the product and make it “very variable,” Shaver says. “Now, as horizontal silos – bunkers and bags – are used, it goes in very evenly and also feeds out very evenly. I don’t think we have those concerns that we had before.

“Also, I think the equipment does a better job of harvesting without so much of the upper portion of the stalk. It tends to be a bit higher in fiber and lower in starch, but it’s not the lower-quality product that we maybe used to have.”

Shaver fed 60 cows, each assigned to one of the three diets, for eight weeks after a two-week adjustment diet. All cows received a 21.8% corn-silage and 32.7% alfalfa-silage forage portion in addition to some supplements (see table). The HMSC treatment totaled 21.5% of the diet with the addition of 9% soy hulls; the all-snaplage treatment totaled 29.2% snaplage; and the combination treatment, 20% snaplage and 9.2% ground, dry shelled corn.

“The snaplage and the snaplage-plus-dry-corn treatments did outperform the high-moisture-corn treatment. But if you took everything into account – the feed efficiency as well as milkfat percent, that combination of snaplage plus dry corn was the best in our particular study,” Shaver says.

A challenge to putting up snaplage or HMSC is harvesting it at the right moisture content, he adds. For the trial, he tried to harvest snaplage at 35% but moisture content was actually closer to 32%.

“I was surprised that we still saw this depression of milkfat percentage; I would have thought with a drier corn, maybe we wouldn’t see that. So there has to be something inherent to that snaplage harvest that was affecting milkfat percentage that was unrelated to moisture.”

Snaplage should be harvested at 35-40% moisture and HMSC at 28-30%, Shaver says. The HMSC in the trial was harvested at 25%.

“The high-moisture corn, without any cob and just the kernels, was 71% starch. Our snaplage still had about 60% starch. It had the husk and the shank and the cob, but it was still a very high-energy product,” Shaver points out.

“We did a very good job of harvesting from the standpoint of not getting too much of the stover or stalk into the product.”