There are many opinions on the proper use of small grain (cereal) silages. Some argue its quality should mimic alfalfa to optimize milk production. Others say that regardless of protein and fiber contents, the silage can work in rations.

Virginia Ishler, Penn State University extension dairy specialist, says in her most recent Dairy Feed Management newsletter to keep an open mind before excluding small grain silages. She notes that while forage quality is important, it’s not the only thing influencing a cow’s performance or profitability.

In a recent study, two farms, one a high-profit operation and the other a medium-profit farm, were compared to gather information on small grain silage quality and its effect on milking herd performance. Both farms fed corn silage and small grain silage as their only forage sources. Both farms fed two-group total mixed rations (TMR) to the milking herd, had similar days in milk, and had the same percentage of first-lactation heifers.

The high-profit herd was fed ryelage with 11% protein concentration and 58% neutral detergent fiber (NDF) on a dry matter basis. Their corn silage was just average. The small grain silage made up 5% of the forage dry matter and energy corrected milk for the high-profit herd averaged 86 pounds per day.

The medium profit herd had a substantially better quality forage than the high profit herd. The small grain silage had 18% crude protein and 49% NDF on a dry matter basis. The brown midrib (BMR) corn silage tested high in fiber digestibility, starch concentration, and had acceptable starch digestibility. The dry matter component of the ration’s forage consisted of 21% small grain silage and the medium-profit herd averaged 75 pounds of energy-corrected milk per day.

Ishler notes that quality of the other forages being fed, inclusion levels, and the other ration ingredients used to complement the forage need to be considered in addition to overall forage quality. The high-profit herd has the potential to improve its overall forage quality, but the ration works for them. The medium-profit herd needs to improve its feeding management and cow flow but harvests forages that are high in quality. Consider all the factors of feeding management and remember there is more to high performance and profitability than just forage quality.

Michaela King

Michaela King served as the 2019 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is majoring in professional journalism and photography. King grew up on a beef farm in Big Bend, Wis., where her 4-H experiences included showing both beef and dairy cattle.