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Proceed with caution when using drought-stressed corn for forage

Agriculture.com Staff 08/30/2006 @ 2:49pm

Corn that's drought-stressed can be used for forage as green chop or silage, say University of Minnesota Extension agronomists Dale Hicks and Paul Peterson. But since there's potential for nitrate toxicity, use green chop (or grazing) only when emergency feed is needed, they add.

"Cutting drought-stressed corn for silage is preferred," said Hicks. "From one-third to one-half of the nitrate accumulated in the plant material can be dissipated when the silage ferments."

Because fermentation takes two to three weeks, drought-stressed corn silage should not be fed for at least three weeks after the silo has been filled. Nitrate testing is recommended since fresh green-chopped corn will vary in nitrate level due to soil fertility, soil moisture and corn maturity.

Symptoms of nitrite toxicity in animals are increased pulse rate, quickened respiration, heavy breathing, muscle tremble, weakness, staggered gait and blindness. If these symptoms occur, change the feed source.

Forage containing nitrate results in production of various forms of nitrogen oxide gas during fermentation. These gases are lethal, poisonous to both humans and livestock, and may occur within 12 to 60 hours after silo filling begins.

Hicks and Peterson recommend the following safety guidelines:

  • Don't enter the silo without first running the silo blower for 10 to 15 minutes to completely ventilate the silo, chute and silo room. It's wise to do this during filling, and whenever anyone enters the silo for two to three weeks afterwards.
  • Leave the chute door open at the surface of the silage to prevent the lethal gases from accumulating.
  • Call a doctor immediately if anyone is exposed to nitrogen oxide gases from silage. Medical treatment may prevent death and minimize injury.

The advisability or even the possibility of providing permanent storage for silage put up on an emergency basis is questionable, Hicks and Peterson say. As temporary storage, Hicks and Peterson recommend the above-ground stack, the below-ground unlined trench and silage bags as readily available alternatives. Good compaction will reduce storage losses, they say.

Because of the greater exposed surface, the shallow depth and the difficulty of packing, producers might experience storage losses of 30% to 40% or more. This is actually a storage cost, but seems justified when silage storage may be required for only one year.

Select a well-drained site for a stack or trench to exclude surface water and provide best access when it's wet. A tight cover of plastic held down with old automobile tires helps reduce storage losses.

Corn that's drought-stressed can be used for forage as green chop or silage, say University of Minnesota Extension agronomists Dale Hicks and Paul Peterson. But since there's potential for nitrate toxicity, use green chop (or grazing) only when emergency feed is needed, they add.

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