Skip to Main navigation Skip to Left navigation Skip to Main content Skip to Footer

University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Agriculture > Forage Production > Utilization > Pricing and using alternative forages

Print Icon Email Icon Share Icon

Pricing and using alternative forages

Jim Paulson, Extension Educator, Dairy1

The 2014 corn silage harvest will soon be upon us, which represents the primary harvest and storage of forage supply for the next twelve months. If you are anticipating a reduction in forage production for the year, due to late planting or prevented planting, some alternative forage supplies may be of benefit to your farming operation.

Forage inventory and feeding budget

Livestock farms should have a plan to ensure that forage stockpiles provide a continuous supply for a full year. Having an accurate representation of forage inventory now is an essential first step in planning out needs for the feeding year. The next step is to build a feed and forage needs budget to estimate feed needs for your farm. After determining a reasonable feed needs budget estimate, then proceed in calculating any additional forage needs to quickly identify and secure potential sources of forage or feed alternatives. For dairy, allocate the highest quality forage for the milking herd and youngest heifers. For beef cows, you may choose to save some for calving time.

Alternative forage options

Late-planted corn

With the reduction in corn grain market prices, some farms may find the opportunity to purchase late-planted corn to add to their supply of corn silage. Purchasing fields of late-planted corn may be an option for livestock farms, particularly if crop producers are looking to reduce risk when there is a good chance that the corn might not mature before a killing frost. In some cases, farms may have planted beyond the crop insurance planting date requirements, leaving these fields exposed to a huge risk. How to price that crop is always a question that needs to be answered before harvest begins. One way is to price the forage based on a post-harvest forage test and the known quantity of forage harvested.

Pricing corn silage

There are a number of ways to closely estimate the amount of silage. Silos and bags are easier to calculate than a pile, but each can be done. For ease of calculating silage needs, start by estimating wet tons of silage using 65 percent moisture, then adjust from there. It is also best to put a minimum price floor if using a post-harvest test to cover the value of fertility and organic matter. Along with establishing a price floor, consideration must be given to harvest cost. Typically, harvest costs average $100 per acre, depending on whether the crop is harvested for silage or grain.

Alternate forage

Alternate high quality grass forage

To give a frame of reference between corn grain and corn silage in assessing value, the value of the corn grain per ton of silage is approximately 7 to 8 bushels of corn per wet ton of silage. Later planting dates will lower the previous estimate. The value of the fodder is usually based on some alternate forage, such as straw or stover. Making this comparison is difficult, because the corn plant is much more digestible if harvested at 65 percent moisture than is dry straw or stover. Comparing that portion to high quality grass forage would be a better estimate of forage value and a better pricing guide. For more information, visit the UM Extension Dairy website.

Sweet corn silage

Sweet corn silage or cannery waste can offer low cost forage alternatives in certain areas of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Sweet corn silage compares favorably with regular corn silage in feeding value (Table 1). It will be lower in starch, as many of these other forages can be. With all of these alternative forages, it is a good investment to get digestibility rates and estimations of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and the undigested NDF. There is a potential to overestimate energy content of forage if the NDF of the forage digests slower than we estimate.

Table 1.Summary of forage quality for corn silage and other alternatives.

Quality percent (%)
Crude protein (CP) 8.5 9 16 14 5
Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) 45 55 50 55 65
Total digestible nutrients (TDN) 70 67 65 70 45

Other alternative forages

Alternate forages could include cover crops that were planted on prevented plant acres that could be available for harvest after November first. While these can be risky to rely on, the forage value as either harvested or grazed forage can be relatively high. Pricing these are difficult. Cover crop forages will usually be priced based on how they compare to alfalfa haylage and small grain silages. In many cases, they will compare favorably with either forage, depending on maturity. Again, forage tests and estimated yields are critical. For many of these different types of cover crops and alternative forages, a wet chemistry forage test will need to be done to obtain a more accurate forage analysis.

1Jim Paulson can be contacted at

Copyright © 2014 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.

  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy