For much of the Midwest and Northeast, it started raining last fall. Wet harvests gave way to saturated soils during the winter and flooding this spring. All these soggy fields stalled planting, but more notably, it has been a long time since many dairy areas have been able to put up a dry and quality forage crop.
With that in mind, it’s time to consider forage plans for the rest of 2019 and 2020.
How will you stretch the forages you have harvested?
Will you need to include lower-than-ideal quality forages in your rations?
Can you include more by-products or other feed ingredients to supplement rations?
The Ohio State’s Bill Weiss addressed some of these questions in a recent Buckeye Dairy News article.
“Although less than ideal, several options exist that will stretch forage inventory and allow inclusion of lower quality forages without substantial negative effects on milk yield,” he said.
1. Increase corn silage feeding rate. This is only an option for the farmer who has enough inventory to allow an increased feeding rate without running out of supply before the new crop is harvested. Simultaneously, this strategy would likely require the addition of some supplemental protein, as corn silage provides less of that nutrient than alfalfa or rye hays and silages. Also, take note of forage neutral detergent fiber (NDF) concentrations as corn silage is added. They should not exceed 20 percent of dietary dry matter.
2. Include the lower quality forages that were harvested. In this strategy, a farm utilizes the forages that were harvested even if they are lower quality than would usually be preferred. Similar to the strategy above, forage inclusion might need to be lowered so as to not exceed a level of forage NDF beyond 20 percent of dietary dry matter.
In this strategy, by-products play a crucial role. Consider additions of wheat midds, soyhulls, brewers grains, or distillers grains. Weiss advised maintaining dietary starch concentrations around 25 percent as forage is reduced in the diet.
3. Replace forages with whole cottonseed. Strictly from a cow’s perspective, whole cottonseed is very similar to forages such as alfalfa. “Whole cottonseed has about 40 percent NDF (similar to average alfalfa), which means replacing 8 pounds of alfalfa silage or hay dry matter with 8 pounds of whole cottonseed should have little effect on the cow,” Weiss explained. That being said, protein, minerals, and supplemental fats in the diet may require an additional look.
4. Grow more forages. Since it’s still early in the summer, farms still have the opportunity to harvest more forage for the farm. Weiss recommended brown midrib (BMR) summer annuals such as BMR sorghum, BMR sorghum-sudan, or BMR sudangrass. These crops can be harvest-ready in 50 to 60 days and produce dairy quality silages.
The next year will prove to be a dairy feeds tightrope. Balancing inclusion of the forages a farm has with dietary fiber levels in mind will be a challenge, but maintaining milk production and moderating feed costs will be worth the efforts.