ALTERNATIVES TO HIGH PRICED CORN Dairy Pipeline: February 2007
Extension Dairy Scientist, Dairy Nutrition
(540) 231-4770; firstname.lastname@example.org
Corn prices have soared this year to over $4.50/bushel in Virginia. High corn prices combined with lower milk prices have caused dairy producers to evaluate alternatives to reduce purchased feed costs. Before making a hasty decision, carefully consider the consequences of substitutions made for corn. Ultimately the goal is not to reduce feed cost, but to optimize income over feed cost. If a substitution is made which saves $.15/cow/day but milk flow drops by 5 lb./cow/day then it’s probably a poor decision as income will be reduced by more than $.15/day!
Corn provides energy and minor amounts of minerals and protein. However, it’s also an important source of starch. Rumen microorganisms need starch to grow and produceprecursors of lactose or milk sugar. A deficiency of starch in the diet might mean slower rumen microbial growth which in turn may lower ration intake resulting in less milk.
Therefore, we need to locate suitable substitutes
which provide some starch as well as
high energy. Where to turn?
• Barley is slightly lower in starch and energy than corn, but higher in protein.
• Hominy feed is frequently substituted for corn. It’s a byproduct of corn processing and has less starch and more fat which is highly available in the rumen. If used as a substitute for corn, maintain total dietary fat levels at 5% or less. Too much fat can impair rumen function and restrict dry matter intake.
• Cookie meal and bakery waste can be good sources of highly available sugars and starches, but they are also high in fat.
In most cases, it’s probably not wise to remove all corn grain from the diet, particularly if corn silage (another good source of starch) is of poor quality. Consider using one of the above products if they are priced lower than corn grain. In all cases make sure that corn and barley grain is finely ground which improves digestibility and utilization by the cow. It should be the consistency of powder or very fine grains. Late lactation cows, dry cows and older heifers (>12 months) can produce and grow satisfactorily with other energy sources substituted for corn grain in the diet. When substitutions are made, carefully monitor performance to assure that feed cost savings are greater than any reductions in income from milk sales.