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Silage Alternative: Baled corn stalks and corn syrup

The high cost of feed has lots of beef producers looking for feed alternatives these days. Tim Luther of Lawson, Mo., tried an experiment of his own last summer with his corn crop

The high cost of feed has lots of beef producers looking for feed alternatives these days. Tim Luther of Lawson, Mo., tried an experiment of his own last summer with his corn crop.

Luther had a corn crop to harvest, but because corn was selling for such a good price, he didn't want to chop his crop for silage like he has in the past. Thus, he needed to come up with a cheap alternative for roughage to use as winter feed.

Luther began to do his homework, to try and come up with a solution for his lack of roughage. After asking many questions, visiting with nutritionists, and noting how corn condensed distiller's solubles (CDS) from ethanol plants - or what Luther calls corn syrup - were being used in different operations in Iowa, he decided to try an experiment and see if he could have the best of both worlds.

In late September, Luther combined his corn, which yielded about 100 bu./acre. He then immediately mowed, raked and baled the corn stalks, just as you would a hayfield. This yielded about 3 tons of forage per acre.

"There was a lot of moisture in the baled corn stalks because we took them right after the grain harvest, and technically if you are going to store the bales over winter with that much moisture they would mold," says Luther.

But, Luther wanted the moisture in the bales because his next step was to use a commercial hay grinder to grind 120 bales of low-quality feedstuff into silage-like pieces that were only 2.5 inches long. This made a large loose pile of about 100 tons of roughage.

Then, two semi loads of CDS were poured directly on and into the pile from the ethanol plant in Craig, MO. A total of 12, 000 gallons of liquid CDS - equivalent to about 50 tons - were added to the 100 tons of roughage.

After the liquid was applied, Luther let gravity go to work and allow the CDS to soak into the roughage. The next day the pile was packed and shaped between two rows of hay bales to make an above ground silage pile.

"This removed as much air from the pile and helped mix in the soluble; what had looked like a mountain was tamed into a lot of cow feed," says Luther.

The pile heated and fermented just like silage and after a month nutrient value tests showed the crude protein of the "homemade" silage at 8-9% and 57% TDN.

Of his experiment Luther was pleased with the outcome. He says, "We didn't turn corn stalks into alfalfa, but low quality forage became a useable processed feed without a lot of cost."

Luther adds, "Rather than grazing the corn stalks and having waste, we were able to use all of the stubble by putting it in a pile."

He also points out that this process allows for using the CDS ethanol by-product without the storage tanks they typically require. Luther cautions that working with the CDS the day they are applied to the pile can be tricky. "The solubles are delivered from the ethanol plant in an insulated tanker and they come out at about 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Ours was pumped on the pile with a hose, but you've got to be careful so you don't burn yourself."

But once the solubles are applied to the pile, packed, and begin to ferment, Luther says there are no storage concerns. And as another advantage, he adds, all of the mess from handling the corn syrup is done in one day.

Because of the windy and rainy weather typical of fall in his area, Tim Luther covered his silage pile with black plastic to help better preserve the feed.

Rather than use old tires to weight down the plastic, Luther had about 20 leftover round bales and he used them to anchor the plastic on his silage pile. He set them on the pile with the tractor loader. He says, "That's the slickest idea we've ever come up with."