Ensiling Immature Grain Corn

Unfortunately, this year many corn crops may not make it to harvest. Fortunately, there are a few options available for producers, such as selling the crop to a livestock producer as feed or utilizing the crop yourself for livestock feed. There are several options which include grazing, whole plant silage or high moisture grain and/or baling or grazing the stover. Which option you choose will depend on several factors such as whether or not the land is fenced and/or cattle have been trained to respect electric fence, and whether or not there are livestock producers in your area that can utilize the crop. If you are thinking of selling the crop to a livestock producer as feed you will have to remember when pricing the corn that your pricing should be competitive as transporting silage is costly and difficult.

When to Harvest

The recommended moisture to ensile corn grain is 25-30%. At physiological maturity corn grain moisture content is around 30-35%, however, if the crop is frozen and harvested before it reaches maturity the grain will need to dry down prior to ensiling. If the grain is put up at a higher than recommended moisture level there can be significant dry matter losses in storage. As well, if the grain is immature, it will be difficult to shell the corn and thus you may have to put up ear corn which includes the cob. Under these circumstances the feed can be safely put up 4-6% higher in the moisture.

Nutritive Values

High moisture corn and ear corn have similar energy and higher crude protein values than dry corn if it is harvested prior to maturity. However, due to the higher moisture levels, there is a faster rate of starch digestibility in the rumen thus it is important to introduce it slowly into a ration. High moisture grain should be processed, such that at least 90% of the kernels are cracked prior to ensiling (if putting up ear corn the cobs should be broken into ½ inch pieces). This allows for better fermentation due to increased packing. If the grain is at a higher than recommended moisture level than the corn should be more coarsely ground to slow down the rate of digestion in the rumen. Conversely, if the grain is put up at a lower than recommended moisture level the grind should be slightly finer to ensure better packing.

If the corn is harvested prior to physiological maturity the grain may have a lighter than normal test weight. However, several studies have shown that corn as light as 46 lbs/bu has no effect on animal performance, thus it should not be discounted when sold as animal feed. If feeding lighter test weight grains it is important to feed by weight and not by volume.