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By Lindsay Kimbrell, Itasca, Texas.

High moisture corn is an important feed source of High Plains cattle producers, and its known pluses require growers and feedlot managers to be on the same page.

Warren Rusche, an Extension associate in beef feedlot management with South Dakota State University, said high moisture corn is beneficial to corn growers and feedlot managers who like the higher starch availability and energy value it provides in comparison with dry corn. He has worked with managers from individual producers to large-scale feedlot operations across the High Plains.

“I like it for its value and the cattle like it,” Rusche said of high moisture corn, adding the advantage can quickly evaporate. “If it’s not managed correctly, there is too much nutritional loss, shrink and the cattle may develop acidosis or bloat.”

In the High Plains region there is a mix of users for high moisture corn. Some operators grow their own feed while others contract with local growers. In either case the destination of the crop is bunker-type pit silos.

One reason high moisture has remained a staple in the High Plains is that it continues to work well with timing of other farm operations, Rusche said. Harvest occurs several weeks ahead of picking dry corn and also ahead of planting a winter wheat crop. High moisture corn works best as a feed source when the moisture content ranges from 28% to 34%, although it is acceptable up to 40%. The harvested crop does not require energy to dry down since it is heading to a silo or similar storage pit. In comparison, dry corn is harvested at about 15% moisture content.

High moisture corn growers who contract their grain to feedlots do not have to pay for drying or for storage as the product is headed to the pit and that can mean saving significant energy costs.

For growers and feedlot managers, developing a pricing formula has to be based on open communication. While there are more ways for growers to control costs in comparison, they also need to understand the feedlot manager has expectations on timeliness and delivery times.

The feed generally has to ferment for more than four weeks, if not longer.

Trying to harvest it too late means more mitigation is needed, he said.

“If it is put up too dry the cattle feeder has to put water on or use other treatments and that adds expense and the cattle might not like it as well,” Rusche said.

Becky Arnold, a territory business manager in the dairy division with Lallemand Animal Nutrition, said feedlot managers and growers know an uncooperative Mother Nature can make harvesting high moisture corn a challenge. Whether it is the threat of a freeze or hail, having an informed team—the grower, harvester and feedlot manager—is a must. Her experience has taught her that wrinkles occur every year.

Skilled operators throughout the process pay off and training new employees cannot take a back seat. Arnold said too often she has seen inexperience show up with the tractor operator who has to pack the feed. The proof is at the top of the pile.

“The top is almost never packed well,” Arnold said.

When harvest conditions are less than ideal, that puts more pressure on the packer who feels the need to hurry. Arnold said slowing trucks is a good practice if you have the ability to do so, for example if you control the harvesting operations yourself.

“More often, however, custom harvesters are in control and on an extremely tight schedule,” Arnold said. “Slowing trucks is slowing harvest and that is not going to work. A plan should be in place between the harvester and producer to add packing weight when delivery is high.”

Having additional tractors available when necessary is critical to achieving optimal packing density with how quickly feed can come in, she said.

Controlling moisture content is important and the feedlot manager wants to fill the bunks in a short period of time, Rusche said. Generally one of the pluses of a bunker silo is that the feed can ferment until winter. He has observed managers who have made a small pit and fill it first and then fill larger pits. Feed than can be taken out of the smaller pit first, which preserves the quality in the larger pits and that management decision can stretch the overall value.

If the high moisture corn is too dry, it will not make the quality of ensilage needed for the feedlot manager. Grinding or rolling the corn prior to packing is critically important to allow for better packing so the corn ferments quickly.

Pricing the corn is also an important consideration for feedlot managers who contract their purchases. There is no “one size fits all” formula, Rusche said. Some managers will contract their corn and pay based on a monthly price average over 12 months. He has seen formulas that use cash or futures bids that can also take into account basis points.

“There are many ways to get contracts and deliveries accomplished so that each side is happy and understands what each other needs,” Rusche said. “We want it to be a win-win situation. The feedlot manager wants an agreement so that he can lock in his feeding costs,” he said.

This year will be more challenging with the per bushel corn price more than twice as high as it was a year ago, he said.

Arnold said in nearly all operations there are ways to reduce loss, whether in handling the crop to packing. The more densely packed will mean cost savings and that means tightening the top length. Tire width and tractor weight are crucial, too, she said.

Today’s prices mean the feedlot manager has to mesh with his employees so they understand that managing all controllable cost is essential and reducing the cost of gain is a premium, Rusche said. Spoilage can be very costly and are magnified when feed expenses are higher.

He said feedlot managers can also use technology, such as implants, that can be put into cattle to help them with their feed efficiency. If the feeder prefers all-natural cattle, “we will need to really push the pencil hard” to control expenses.

In times like this, Rusche said, “a lot of success depends on managing the little things.” Also, the question that needs to be answered —whether it is excessive moisture or heat problems—can mean adjusting the feed rations.

“Unfortunately I don’t have a magic bullet with $120 per hundredweight cattle being fed $7 corn,” he said. “What we try to manage is all the things in a manner so that it can stop a direct loss.”

He is also an advocate of using a nutritionist who can help the feeder and answer questions about how to use the feed. They can also offer advice on inoculants to stretch nutritional value.

“The ability to manage feed yards can be really challenging right now,” he said.

“The best management shines.”

Regardless of the economic times, the key is full communication so the corn grower and feedlot manager understands expectations, Rusche said.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or dbergmeier@hpj.com

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