Factors affecting the nutritional composition and digestibility of corn for silage: Cover crops and cell wall composition

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Corn silage is one of the major components in dairy cattle rations in the United States. Many factors affect the nutritional composition of corn for silage, such as cropping system, including cover crops, and the composition of the corn plant cell wall. The objectives of the first study were to determine the nutritional quality of different winter crops for silage and to determine the impact of the various winter crops on the succeeding productivity of corn and sorghum. Experimental plots were planted with 15 different winter crop treatments: 5 winter annual grasses in monoculture or with one of two winter annual legumes (crimson clover [CC] and hairy vetch [HV]). After harvesting the winter crops, each plot was planted with either corn or forage sorghum. Crimson clover increased DM yield compared to monocultures but HV did not. Adding legumes increased the crude protein concentration, but reduced the fiber and sugar concentrations of the forages. Even though in vitro neutral detergent fiber digestibility was reduced with the addition of legumes, the concentration of highly digestible non-fibrous components is greater in the mixtures than the monocultures, increasing the nutritive value of the silage. The objective of the second study was to determine the cell wall (CW) composition along the corn stalk. Three phytomers of corn plants were examined: center (C) of ear insertion, upper (U) and lower (L) phytomers. Each phytomer was cut into 4 sections: top (T), middle (M), bottom (B), and node (N). The CW, uronic acid (UA), glucose (GLU), and lignin concentrations did not change among phytomers. The concentrations of arabinose (ARA) and xylose (XYL) were greater in the U than in the L phytomers. Concentrations of CW, ARA, and XYL increased from B to T within the phytomer, but UA and GLU concentrations decreased from B to T. Lignin did not change within the phytomer. In mature corn for silage, changes within the corn internode may be more useful in determining how the environment changes the CW.



corn, winter (cover) crops, cell wall