By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
Silage can be a great feeding option for cattle. It can allow a producer to store more feed in a smaller area and has great energy value for cattle. Many crops can be silaged, barley, alfalfa, oats, hay, sorghum, (any grassy cereal), but perhaps no crop has better silage value than corn.
“Southern Alberta has got an advantage with the combination of higher heat units and extensive irrigation,” says Ryan Kasko, manager of Kasko Cattle Co. based in Coaldale, Alberta. “If we compare corn silage to barley silage. We would maybe get 10 or 11 tonnes of barley silage per acre whereas we might get 18 or 20 tonnes of corn silage per acre. So there is a lot more productivity on every acre we grow. Corn silage also has higher energy than barley silage. If you can get energy into the calf when you first start feeding him that makes sure he stays healthy and gets all the nutrients he needs to start.”
Kasko Cattle Co. has been using corn silage in its feedlot operations for the past 17 years. It is able to put up enough of it to feed 70,000 head of cattle per year. The company grows enough corn on its farms to produce about 65,000 tonnes of silage annually.
Kasko says silage is the preferred choice for most feed operations in southern Alberta.
“With silage you can store a lot of product on your property in a relatively small area. It’s also easier to handle. If you are feeding hay, for example, you’ve got to bring it in and then chop it up and feed it out. It’s just logistically more difficult to manage. With hay it is also exposed to all the elements and can get spoiled. With the silage that we have we put a plastic cover over it and we pack it in. It stores really well and can last two or three years if it is covered properly.”
However, says Kasko, you also need to have specialized knowledge on how to properly make the silage. While Kasko Cattle Co. grows and harvests its own corn, it uses outside consultants during the silaging process to ensure everything is done properly.
“One thing is we use an innoculant to manage the PH levels in the silage so it cures properly,” explains Kasko. “And packing the silage is really key. So when the trucks are bringing it into the silage pit you have to really make sure you have a heavy tractor that packs the silage down and gets the air out of your pit; otherwise you will have spoilage issues. Covering it properly is important too. Like making sure you have plastic cover, and even a layer of old tires to cover it, just so you can keep the feed as fresh as possible. The curing process also produces a liquid which has a high acidity to it, and you’ve got to be careful with that too. It can definitely make a big mess.”
Kasko says also, unlike hay, corn silage requires special equipment to distribute to cattle.
“If you feed silage, you generally have to have a feed truck to feed it out to your cattle. You also need a loader. It maybe requires a little bit more equipment to feed it out as opposed to feeding a bale of hay where you can take a tractor and throw it in a feeder. If you have more numbers of cattle you can usually justify having that extra equipment.”
As Kasko explains, there are also specific varieties of corn which are intended for silaging.
“These are silage varieties that are quite tall,” says Kasko. “The corn in your garden might be five feet tall and it grows maybe six or seven cobs whereas we grow varieties that are ten feet tall and have only one or two cobs on it. We are looking for volume as well as high energy. In terms of silage brands there are lots of choices out there.”
All and all silage can do a lot to improve the efficiency of cattle feeding, but it probably works best where there are higher numbers of cattle involved.
“All sizes of cattle operations can use it, but there is no question that larger ones probably derive the most benefit,” confirms Kasko.