November 13, 2009

WH Miner Institute: Catherine Ballard, 518-846-7121x112; Kurt Cotanch x123
NNYADP Co-Chairs: Joe Giroux: 518-565-4730; Jon Greenwood, 315-386-3231

How Does Later Corn Harvest Impact Cow Health, Milk Production?

Chazy, NY - By farmer request, the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has begun research to evaluate the impact of later-harvested corn on cow digestive health and milk production efficiency. The high cost of grain (particularly cornmeal in recent years) along with the weather causing harvest delays has raised concern for maximizing on-farm production of energy in the form of corn. Some dairy consultants are recommending farmers delay harvest to capture more starch in their corn silage crop.

In 2009, the farmers who guide the small grants program of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program requested the research that is being conducted at the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, NY. They identified the evaluation of the impact of corn maturity at harvest on nutrient composition, starch and fiber digestibility, and protein solubility of different corn hybrids as a priority project.

Northern New York Agricultural Development Program Co-Chair and dairyman Joe Giroux says, “The most critical factor of this research will be in knowing the impact of the later-ensiled corn silage on the nutritional quality of the final silage, which ultimately affects cows’ rumen health and farm profitability.”

W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute Director of Research Catherine S. Ballard and Miner Institute Forage Lab Director Kurt W. Cotanch are project leaders.

Ballard says, “Some consultants have suggested delaying harvest until the corn’s whole plant dry matter approaches forty percent. The reasoning is that corn starch deposition into the kernels is maximized, and nutrient loss is higher in corn ensiled at lower dry matter percentages with a resulting loss in milk production value. Whole-plant corn silage harvested at a higher percentage of dry matter (35-38%DM) may provide more energy in the form of starch. This, in turn, decreases the need for purchased grain.”

Whole-plant corn harvesting processes the entire stalk of corn into silage for feeding to dairy cows. As plants mature, the corn stalk decreases in digestibility for dairy cows. The amount of time silage spends in a silo influences protein solubility and starch content. These changes impact how dairy farmers and nutrition consultants formulate feed rations.

Cotanch says, “The increase in ruminal starch degradation over time in the silo could lead to silage rations that have a higher chance of causing subacute ruminal acidosis.”

In plain terms, subacute ruminal acidosis is an acid stomach in cows. This condition leads to decreased milk production, efficiency, and weight loss, which, in turn, results in untimely loss of cows from the milking herd and economic loss to the farm.

The NNYADP-funded research will also determine if the increase in net energy in lactation in whole-plant corn silage attained by harvesting more mature corn may result in more milk per acre.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is a farmer-driven initiative to ensure the long term economic vitality of Northern NY’s agricultural production sector and agriculture’s important contributions to the protection and enhancement of the region’s environment and rich natural resource base and to communities in New York State’s six northernmost counties.

Learn more about dairy industry research by contacting your local Cornell Cooperative Extension or W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, or on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org. # # #

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program awards grants for practical on-farm research, outreach and technical assistance and is supported by funds from the New York State Legislature through the long term support of the North Country’s State Senators, and with the support of NYS Assemblypersons from the region and other areas of the state.

The program receives support (funds, time, land, expertise, etc.) from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, six Northern New York Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations, W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, cooperating farms, agribusinesses across the region, and others.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is co-chaired by Joe Giroux and St. Lawrence County dairyman Jon Greenwood. # # #