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Earlage an Option for Harvesting Corn

Making earlage requires following good corn silage making principles.

One option for harvesting and storing corn is turning it into earlage, which ultimately will be used for cattle feed.

“Earlage, which is ensiled corn grain, cobs, husks and, in some cases, a portion of the stalk, is higher in energy than corn silage with similar protein content,” says Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist. “It’s lower in energy than corn grain because it includes a portion of the fibrous parts of the plant, such as the husk, stalk and cob, but it works well in a variety of cattle diets, including growing and finishing diets for beef cattle and feed for lactating dairy cows.”

However, producers should contact their crop insurance agent before harvesting their corn crop as earlage. Failure to do so may be a violation of their insurance policy and could result in significant penalties, Lardy says.

Producers who choose to harvest their corn as earlage should follow two good silage-making principles:

  • Make sure the crop’s moisture content is correct before chopping. Lardy said 60 percent to 65 percent dry matter, with 35 percent to 40 percent moisture, is best.
  • Exclude oxygen. As with any silage, if the material isn’t packed properly and sealed, oxygen will penetrate. Oxygen penetration will result in excess spoilage and poor-quality fermentation. Be sure to cover the earlage pile with plastic to prevent oxygen penetration.

Excess seepage is possible if moisture levels are too high. Excess seepage will result in poor-quality fermentation and nutrient loss. On the other hand, earlage that’s too dry is difficult to pack, which will lead to excessive spoilage.

Earlage can be harvested in several ways. The most common method is to use a snapper head on a forage harvester so that just the ear, cob and husk are harvested. Another option is to use an all-crop head and take the upper one-third of the stalk along with all ears. The second option will produce more tonnage, but the energy content will be lower due to the inclusion of the stalk.

At maturity, the corn plant will contain about 46 percent grain, 8 percent cob and 7 percent husk, with the remainder being stalk and leaf material. As a result, producers can expect earlage yields to be about one-third greater than the grain yield they would have expected to harvest if the crop were combined.

Most major forage harvesting equipment manufacturers offer snapper or all-crop heads that can be used for harvesting earlage.

“The key is to have a header that takes the ear (cob, grain and husk),” Lardy says.

Many custom forage chopping operations will have access to the equipment to produce good-quality earlage.

Several newer silage choppers have kernel processors installed on the machines. The kernel processor breaks up the corn kernel and helps improve digestibility of the grain in the earlage. Producers also have reported using conventional combines to produce earlage by setting the machines to break up the cob and return it to the grain tank. Some adjustments to the unloading auger may be necessary to allow the bulkier material to be unloaded from the hopper.

Additional information on good corn silage making principles is available at

For more information, contact Lardy at (701) 231-7660 or

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Greg Lardy, (701) 231-7660,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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