Evaluating the Value of Corn Silage in Nebraska under Current Conditions

Evaluating the Value of Corn Silage in Nebraska under Current Conditions

photo of corn field
Photo courtesy of USDA-NRCS

August 2013

In the past, corn silage was more attractive and more economical when corn prices were relatively expensive. A large body of research was conducted on how silage fits in different beef cattle systems. As a result of expensive grain, we are focusing on how this approach may fit today.

There are two other reasons to revisit this issue today. We want to determine how distillers grains (which are common today) impact cattle performance when fed with silage. This is different from feeding corn silage 30 to 40 years ago when distillers grains weren't so abundant. The other reason is that pricing silage is different when corn prices change.

Finishing Cattle

When feeding elevated levels of silage to finishing cattle, daily gain and feed conversions will generally get poorer. However, if silage is priced appropriately, this relatively minor change in performance is still economical. Therefore, how silage is priced is critical.

We have updated pricing on corn standing in the field to 7.65 times the price of a bushel of corn. The bushel price is as-is bushels and the corn silage is priced on an as-is ton at 35% DM.

photo - corn silage in bunkerWhen we price it into the bunker, we use commercial rates for harvesting and packing the silage as well as estimating the price or cost of the bunker. However, you have a discount if you harvest silage as you don't have to harvest grain (cost of combining) and you don't have to deliver it to the market (average of $0.11/bu).

There is much discussion on removal of stover and the fertilizer value. In actuality, the cost of not having to harvest the grain is about equal to the cost of N and P removed from the field. In addition, this system only fits sustainably on acres suitable for silage harvest, likely on irrigated acres, and also on acres receiving manure. We have not credited acres that receive manure which would fit integrated crop-cattle operations.

Shrink is also a key factor when you go to price silage from the bunker to a price delivered to the cattle. In our economics, we have used 10% and also shown the impact of going to 15%. As you can see, properly packing, covering, and managing your silage pile face is critical to minimize shrink losses. We would always recommend measuring shrink.

More information on the feeding of elevated amounts of silage is available in our 2013 Nebraska Beef Reports in the Forage Resource Management and Finishing sections.

Backgrounding or Cow-calf Operations

Silage also is a good fit for many backgrounding or cow-calf operations. Pricing it appropriately and evaluating price per unit of energy (usually TDN) is essential. In recent times, silage was the cheapest source of TDN and should be evaluated.

Lastly, harvesting drought challenged areas for silage is one way to salvage a corn crop. It is important that removal of the crop as silage does not compromise any government payments for yield losses. Targeting 35% DM for silage from those acres is very important so that you can anaerobically store the silage and fermentation occurs.


Recordings of three webinars providing additional information on the value of corn silage and on proper harvesting and storing methods are now available online.

Dr. Galen Erickson
UNL Beef Feedlot Extension Specialist
University of Nebraska