We all know good forages set a farm up for a good year of milk production. The trick is there is a lot that goes into making that high-end, lactation-quality forage.
University of Wisconsin-Madison professor David Combs summarized the climate of dairy forages perfectly at the recent Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin meeting. “There’s a lot of things changing with forage development,” Combs said in opening his presentation to the full room.
So, how does one go about making such a forage?
“Both NDF (neutral detergent fiber) and NDFD (NDF digestibility) are necessary,” explained Combs. Good forage is the combination of the right amount of fiber at the right amount of digestibility.
Furthermore, Combs’ co-presenter Dan Undersander, who is a forage agronomist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, reminded attendees that the best grown forages can be sidelined by poor harvesting procedure.
“The forage quality we end up with has to do a lot with the harvesting timing and methodology,” Undersander said. “The first most important thing is when you start harvesting, and a lot of people start too late and the quality is already too low.”
Combs echoed Undersander’s thoughts later in the presentation reminding producers that genetics is only part of the conversation. Most research shows that forage outcomes are one-third genetics and two-thirds environment.
“We have the genes of the plant, the environment it’s grown in, and then we have the human factor,” Combs continued. “How do you manage that forage? How many leaves have fallen off? Did you let it get rained on? All those have impacts on fiber digestibility.”When it comes to growing, harvesting, and storing the perfect forage, the devil remains in the details. No perfect hybrid can patch poor management, and good management can help but not fix poor environmental conditions.
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