For the most part, this summer has been a hot one, and the corn plants are soaking up those heat units! It has made for a nice crop year in the Southeast. Although corn prices could be better from the grower’s perspective, cattle producers are glad to have a little breathing room on their feed bills.
One thing I think both growers and feeders of corn can agree on is that the ethanol plant shutdowns and production declines have not been great news. Distillers grains, both wet and dry, have become a staple in many cattle rations across the country. With the lack of supply, it has forced some changes in feed rations and, for some farmers, the way they put up their silage. The nutritional value and digestibility of distillers grains are hard to replace, but there is one form of feed that has been around for some time, and it is gaining steam once again to help fill the feed ration hole left by the lack of distillers grains.
The feedstuff I am referring to is earlage. In some parts of the U.S., it has been a staple feed for many years while, in others, distillers grains and grain corn were more viable options. Whatever the reasons, we are seeing more cattle and dairy producers offering to purchase standing corn for harvesting earlage. Earlage is a high-energy feed that can be harvested and stored similar to corn silage. It consists of the corn grain, cobs, and various levels of husks and shank. In many cases, additional equipment doesn’t need to be purchased to harvest earlage.
Check the processor
When making earlage, it is important to have the kernel processor (KP) properly set on the harvester. One thing that can make earlage challenging is the lack of material going through the machine and the density of the kernels. We discussed the importance of a properly set KP a few years ago and noted that even changing corn hybrids can drastically impact kernel processing on the same machine.
Some of the new improvements that manufacturers have made to help in processing are adding more grooves to the KP belt and increasing the size of the roll itself. There are a few aftermarket companies that make KP rolls for every machine, and each does a great job in most scenarios.
There are machines on the market now with eight- and nine-groove processer belts and up to 12-inch rolls. This drastically enhances the driving force of the processing rolls and helps to reduce belt slipping, which lowers the amount of heat being produced that can eventually stretch the belt.
You don’t need to go out and purchase a new $800,000 machine to put up good earlage. However, you do need to look over your KP rolls and replace them with new rolls if they are worn. The rolls can be purchased from your harvester’s manufacturer or from a reputable aftermarket company. For our customers, keeping new rolls in their machine has paid off for them in terms of downtime and the quality of feed that is coming out of the spout. Finding the right corn head adapter may prove to be the biggest challenge this season, as more harvesters look to adapt their choppers to row-crop corn and snapper heads.
Before the corn gets too close to harvest maturity, pull out your processor and look it over from the springs to the rolls themselves. It may be time to readjust the stops on the gap or do a total upgrade. It is well worth the time and effort to process the corn properly.
Earlage is stored similar to silage and all of the same best practices apply. It can be stored in upright silos, bags, or in bunker silos, but oxygen must be eliminated. Bunker silos need to be well-packed and covered quickly after harvest.
If using silage bags, continually monitor the plastic for holes that might develop. Repair any holes as quickly as possible with approved tape.
Have a great fall harvest!
This article appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 23.
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