From the Farm

The New Debate: Silage v. Earlage

Blog written by Kaitlin Donovan

We’ve long known about corn silage. The practice of chopping corn plants while they still green and fermenting them to create a high moisture feed. Silage serves as a great feed for both dairy and feedlot cattle because of it’s high energy content and easy digestibility.

For those that may not know, when cutting silage farmers use a forage chopper to cut the stalks at a consistent height. This method cuts the whole plant (stalk, cob, husk and kernel.) Then the silage goes into a truck to be moved to a silo or pit for storage where it is covered with a tarp and begins fermentation.

Southwest KCGA board member and Kansas Corn Commissioner, Steve Rome of Hugoton, KS sent in this video of his corn being cut for silage. Notice the various horn honks used for communication. To get the fields cut quickly the trucks have to drive next to the choppers in the field, however they can’t always seen when they are full. So the chopper driver watches and lets them know so they can move out to take the silage to the silo or pit while the next truck drives up to take their place.

Some choppers include whole-plant processing where the plant goes through a roller mill crushing the silage in the field. This process can also be done prior to feeding, it all depends on the machinery used. Processing the corn is important because it improves starch and fiber digestion in the cow.

Notice the difference of consistencies between silage and earlage, both cut on farms in western Kansas. Silage has much more roughage than earlage.

A new trend hitting the market is earlage, which is basically silage without the stalks and leaves. It’s still cut with a chopper but utilizes an adapter that allows the farmer to attach the row crop header from their combine onto the forage chopper. The storage of earlage is similar to silage and is processed the same to ensure high digestibility.

Northwest Kansas Corn Commissioner, Brian Baalman of Menlo, KS owns a feedyard and started cutting earlage for a three years now. His son, Coby, who manages the feedyard likes the earlage as a nutritive feedstuff for the cattle. Brian appreciates the amount of crop residue left in the field to lock in soil moisture and decrease the possibility of soil erosion.

The difference between silage and earlage is seen in the feed bunk. Because earlage has less forage in the mixture, the ratio of starch to fiber is different. This is what makes earlage more attractive to feedlots looking to fatten their cattle compared to dairies.

According to North Dakota State University, earlage tends to be higher in energy (starch) than corn silage with a similar protein content, but still has lower energy than dry or high-moisture corn grain. If you want to learn more about earlage check out this publication from NDSU titled, “Harvesting, Storing and Feeding Corn as Earlage.”

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/livestock/harvesting-storing-and-feeding-corn-as-earlage

Scenes from earlage cutting in northwest Kansas with corn commissioner Brian Baalman. Once the earlage makes it to the pit it is dumped from the truck and packed together with the tractor.

Cattle enjoy earlage in their diets at Baalman Feedyard.