Which Silage Crop is Right For You?

By Megan Oleksyn

Peas, barley and corn, oh my! Here in Western Canada, there are many different forage crops that can be cost-effectively turned into silage for cattle. High River area rancher, Phil Rowland, comments that silage is €œthe easiest way to put up a consistent quality forage crop in Alberta€™s variable climate conditions.€ And with all the rain showers we are seeing across the province this year, those trying to put up hay would have to agree.

The most common cereal crops that get put up as silage in Western Canada are barley and oats, often seeded as a mix. However, spring triticale is becoming more widely grown for silage purposes as it performs well under stress, including drought and high temperatures, excess moisture, acid soils or excess of soil nutrients. Under these conditions, triticale will maintain its yield potential and straw strength better when compared to barley or oats. Barley or oats may have also less drought tolerance and weaker straw than triticale. According to a study done by the Alberta government the dry silage yield of triticale averaged 14,324 kg/ha (this converts to 12,758 lbs/ac) and barley silage yield averaged 13,346 kg/ha (11,887 lbs/ac).

Mixing field peas with a cereal for silage has become more common in the past several years. The primary benefit of peas mixed with barley or oats is to improve quality, and potentially boost yield. When peas make up at least at least 50% of the seeded mixture (by weight), producers can expect crude protein in the harvested forage to be 2 to 4 percentage points higher than with cereals alone. Typically, a cereal silage alone is usually about 10% protein and pea silage can be 13-18% protein, so theoretically a pea/cereal mix should have higher protein than a pure cereal. In reality however, the potential protein benefits of peas in silage mixtures often are not attained because of the competitive effects of the cereal crop. Pea/cereal mixtures can produce better quality silage than cereals alone but the success of these underseeded crops is mostly dependent on the seeding rates and ensuring there are enough peas in the mixture to influence feed quality.

While last years record drought may have influenced their decision, some growers are shying away from silaging corn this year in Alberta. According to rancher, Derek Westman, the corn silage just doesn€™t pencil out. €œWe really thought our grass cattle would love it, but the palatability just wasn€™t there, and neither was the tonnage€, Westman explains. €œWe also have to consider the PITA factor €“ shutting down combines to silage in October just isn€™t feasible to us.€ Westman is referring to the fact that corn should be harvested for silage after the ear is well dented but before the leaves turn brown and dry, when the quantity and quality of corn silage are at their peak. After this stage, the feeding value of corn stalks and leaves decreases while field losses increase.

Every geographical area is different in the types and quality of silage it will best produce, but that can change depending on the year, weather conditions, heat units available and a diversity of other factors. Let us know what you have tried in your part of the world, what worked and what didn€™t. Happy Harvest!

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