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Thinking about BMR? Producers share their experiences

PD Staff Published on 21 September 2011

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With high grain prices, brown mid-rib (BMR) corn hybrids are receiving attention from dairy producers who want to feed more highly digestible forages and less grain in the ration.

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Like any technology, successful use of BMR corn silage comes with a learning curve, requiring attention to management and an understanding of how BMR differs from conventional corn silage.

In this roundtable, three dairy producers with varying levels of experience will share what they have learned about growing and feeding BMR.

The panelists include:

• David Smithgall, Old Acres Farm in Perry, New York – an early adopter of BMR

• Jeff Buchholz, So-Fine Bovines in Westfield, Wisconsin – with four years of BMR experience

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• Greg Andersen, Seagull Bay Dairy in American Falls, Idaho – new user of BMR corn silage

Q. How long have you been using BMR and what made you decide to try it?

SMITHGALL: I was presented with some information about BMR by Agway more than 10 years ago. After learning more about the genetic differences of BMR and the claims of increased milk production, I decided to trial it. We started with 150 acres, and based on the results we’ve seen, we’re at 800 acres this year.

BUCHHOLZ: My nutritionist first told me about BMR four years ago. We started with a small trial, only 20 to 30 acres and fed it to just the fresh mature cows and the fresh 2-year-olds. We replaced BMR for conventional corn silage pound for pound in the ration on a dry matter basis. This year we planted 350 acres of BMR for corn silage.

ANDERSEN: We’ve been utilizing BMR corn silage on our dairy for two years now. I initially heard about BMR from other dairymen. After discussing it with my nutritionist and consulting with some of the seed company’s representatives, I decided to give it a try.

We started with a trial of 50 acres the first year and have increased it since then. We grow one-third of our corn and have local farmers grow the other two-thirds. If we can get more acres grown nearby we would like to feed even more BMR corn silage.

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Q. How do you incorporate BMR corn silage into your feeding program? Tell us about the results you’ve seen.

SMITHGALL: Currently, my milking cows are fed 100 percent BMR corn silage and my dry cows are on a diet of 50 percent BMR and 50 percent conventional corn silage. Because of its high digestibility, BMR has enabled us to increase our forage levels from 55 percent forage to 65 to 70 percent forage.

We’ve seen an increase in milk production, and we’ve been able to reduce our grain cost. Cows are meant to eat forage, and feeding them BMR has helped us create a healthier environment for our herd.

BUCHHOLZ: We are feeding BMR to all of our milking cows. Our goal is to be at 50 percent BMR corn silage and 50 percent haylage on a dry matter basis. Because we can run the starch levels a bit lower and digestibility is increased, we’re seeing healthier rumens.

Feeding BMR corn silage has also allowed us to feed approximately 1.5 to 2 pounds less grain corn per cow per day, saving us roughly 15 cents per cow per day. We saw a 4-pound milk increase and an increase in our components as well.

ANDERSEN: We feed more of the BMR corn silage – 55 pounds compared with only 25 to 30 pounds when we were feeding conventional. We like feeding our herd the highly digestible fiber and it allows us to pull some grain out of the ration. I also believe it has decreased the overall ration cost.

We saw an immediate increase in milk production the first year, but we didn’t get the same results last year. We are still learning and making adjustments, but we do plan to continue it for a third year.

Q. What adjustments have you made with BMR compared with conventional corn silage?

SMITHGALL: As far as planting BMR corn, we have lowered our planting populations slightly compared with conventional corn. When we started using BMR more than 10 years ago, we did see some yield drag, but over the years, with improvements made to the technology and as we’ve become more experienced with it, yield drag has not been as much of an issue, so we have continued to increase our acres.

Another adjustment we have made is in chop length. Our ideal chop length for BMR is three-quarters of an inch, compared with one-half-inch chop length for conventional corn.

BUCHHOLZ: Our planting rates with BMR have been a bit lighter than with conventional corn. And we’ve learned that BMR is a more mature variety, so checking moisture levels to ensure we are chopping at the proper time has been very important.

Initially we did not increase chop length, but the last few years we’ve moved it up to three-quarters of an inch. Next year I’d like to try to move it to a 1-inch chop length. Particle length is critical, especially as we push higher rates of corn silage.

ANDERSEN: We haven’t made any major adjustments with planting BMR hybrids. We try to use the correct amount of fertilizer and water, just like we would with conventional. It can be challenging to determine when is exactly the right time to chop because the BMR looks drier than it really is.

The first year we let it get a bit too dry, so sampling to check moisture levels is critical. We use inoculants with the BMR corn silage, but we avoid inoculants that claim to help with digestibility because of the lignin levels of the BMR; it’s highly digestible already.

Q. What advice would you offer producers considering BMR corn hybrids?

SMITHGALL: The biggest piece of advice I can offer anyone who is looking to try BMR corn silage for the first time is to work closely with a dairy nutritionist. Having a nutritionist on board who understands the proper way to utilize BMR is important.

When we started using it 10 years ago, we didn’t have that support and our learning curve was very steep. BMR corn silage needs to be managed separately from storing to feeding so accurate results can be determined.

BUCHHOLZ: I would encourage any producer trying BMR for the first time to start with a small trial. Work with a nutritionist who understands the technology. Most importantly, store it separately and feed it separately the first year so you can get a true side-by-side comparison of how it works compared with conventional corn.

Only then can a producer determine if it’s the right fit for his or her operation. There are so many different feeds and technologies available to dairymen, the only way to cut through the clutter is to do the research and try it yourself.

ANDERSEN: I encourage anyone interested in BMR technology to trial it. Grow a small percentage of your crop as BMR and feed it at a time when you can track the response. There may be some yield loss, but that seems to be less of an issue with a smaller spread between BMR and conventional corn.

As well as getting your nutritionist on board, I also recommend talking with other producers who have tried it. Learn from their experiences. The bottom line is you have to try it for yourself and determine if it’s a good fit for your operation. PD

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