Sweet corn cannery waste doesn’t have the quality or consistency of corn silage. But at a third to half the price, it’s an effective way for some dairies to shave their feed bills.
Josh Engelmann uses the byproduct as a cost-effective feed primarily for replacement heifers on Woodland Dairy, which he and his brother, Chris, own.
A canning factory near the Waverly, MN, dairy sells the ration ingredient, which contains about 15% of the corn kernels of normal corn silage, according to one cannery official’s estimate.
“We usually start out by just adding it to the replacement heifer rations, and then we slowly bring it into the cow rations once we know that the harvest is in full swing and that there will be a steady supply,” Engelmann says.
The first year he incorporated sweet corn waste into his rations, Engelmann didn’t have much of a choice. He was running out of regular corn silage and neighbors who deliver the byproduct advised him to use it as a short-term solution to feed his 1,200 cows.
He’s been using it ever since – even though sweet corn waste has its own problems. The main issue the dairyman encounters is lack of consistency.
“There will be variations between the quality and moisture content of each load,” he says. “We just have to watch everything more closely when we’re feeding sweet corn silage to make sure that the cows are still responding properly to the ration.”
The fresh, unfermented forage is fed only a couple of months, during harvest. It substitutes for 100% of the corn silage in TMRs for his replacement heifers, and for half of it in rations for his milking herd.
Paul Dyk, University of Wisconsin dairy and livestock Extension agent in Fond du Lac County, says that, while sweet corn waste may have lower percentages of total digestible nutrients and dry matter than corn silage, it still works well in dairy rations due to its bulky fiber content. It also boasts higher crude protein content, according to feed analyses.
Milk quality also is rarely affected when sweet corn waste is incorporated into a ration, he adds.
“Cows usually eat it pretty well,” Dyk says. “It’s not considered to be a high-energy feed, but you’ll see guys with dry cows or heifers feed it.” Beef cows are also fed the byproduct.
Dyk notes that sweet corn stalks left in the field after harvest and silage made from unharvested sweet corn also work in rations, but canning-factory waste, fed fresh and unfermented, is most commonly used.
One limiting factor on cost, Dyk explains, is transportation. The further a dairy is from the cannery, the higher the transportation bill. That’s an especially limiting factor for sweet corn waste due to its high moisture content.
“If you’re too far away, you’re just transporting a lot of water,” he says, adding that sweet corn waste typically doesn’t travel more than 20-30 miles from the cannery.
Moisture normally runs 73-74% for sweet corn right out of the field, explains one silage manager at a Minnesota cannery, and even more water is added during processing. Water is squeezed from it after processing, decreasing its content to 60-70%.
Sweet corn waste is also more coarse in texture compared to most silages because it is not chopped with a field chopper, Dyk adds. That may cause issues with packing if it’s ensiled in a bunker, but it rarely affects palatability.
As it ages, the waste doesn’t feed as well; cows don’t milk as well, either, Engelmann says. But, other than the feed’s cost-effectiveness, having a steady and reliable source of feed is a main benefit.
“We make sure that we are in constant communication with the guys delivering it for us,” he says. “They do a good job of letting us know when the plant is going to be shut down and making sure we have enough on hand.”