|Organic corn row. Note weeds between rows.|
|Conventional corn field, roundup ready corn. No weeds. None.|
So corn gets a bad reputation, but it's not corns fault. There are varieties of corn that aren't GMO, that are not grown with chemicals, and, honestly, corn is just a plant. So when I'm looking at feeding cows, one of the common things that I see in cows diets is corn silage.
Silage is just the whole corn plant chopped up. Stalk, leaves, cob, the whole thing. Chopped up fine and then typically used as a part of a ration for a dairy or beef cow. I don't think that corn is evil, but if I'm going to grow corn, I'd like to do it with open-pollinated varieties and without chemical sprays. Organically grown.
|Many of the weeds are palatable to cattle, so while it's not pretty, in my book it's ok.|
So today I spent some time talking with a farmer nearby who's growing some organic silage corn. We talked about what he did to prepare his fields, and what his yields are, and generally speaking about what he had to do to make the crop work out for him. Then we talked about the price bonus he gets from being organic.
The basic cow feed that I'm working on is some sort of grass hay (probably orchard grass because it grows well for many farmers here) some sort of legume (probably red clover or alfalfa because it grows well around here) and some sort of silage (corn, but also grass and legume silage).
We do not get weather hot enough or dry enough to actually dry the hay in the fields (both grass and legume hay), at least not early in the season. So most farmers here cut the grass wet and make haylage out of it. They get it as dry as they can, and then pack it into air-tight bales and let it ferment a little; it comes out smelling a little like vinegar, and the cows seem to like it. It also keeps fairly well wrapped; certainly a year, but most of the farmers talk about 2 years as being pretty common.
The first cutting is made into haylage, and the 2nd and 3rd cuttings, the finer, leafier hay, gets cut and dried and baled as dry hay. Some producers around here just wait until the weather turns warmer to make their first cutting, but I've found that the hay produced isn't very palatable to my animals. Given the choice between a 2nd cutting and stemmy first cutting, they'll finish off the 2nd cutting completely.
I don't know much about the production of forage, and that's why I'm spending months talking to other farmers around here and watching what they do to make theirs. If I'm going to be feeding and milking animals, I need to get the diet right, and I'd like to have as little off-farm feed as I possibly can.
the conventional corn silage is producing 27 tons per acre; at 40lbs a cow a day, that's 1350 cow-days per acre of feed, or basically enough forage for 3.5 cows per acre of corn. So 20 acres of corn will feed 74 cows, give or take... that's about the right amount for a 40 cow dairy, including replacement heifers.
I feel like this is a puzzle. I'm slowing finding pieces that fit.
So if you'd like to see some graphs about what kinds of corn are being used and other corn facts, check out this link. I particularly liked the note that while a very large percentage of US corn is now GMO (presumably for increased yields) the yields haven't really changed all that much. So the GMO yield thing isn't working as advertised, apparently.