Make Plans for Immediate Forage Needs

Dr. Maurice Eastridge, Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

With the drought in 2012 in many areas, forage supply at this point is very limited. Quality also was an issue in many situations, especially with corn silage. In general, first cutting of haycrop forage this year resulted in good yields of typical quality forage. Yet, with the continuous, heavy rains in many areas of the midwest, second cutting was delayed which reduced quality. This delay may affect the number of cuttings available in 2013. In some areas, winter heaving of the alfalfa has caused major losses. With the heat and moisture this summer, growth of the corn for silage is well advanced.  However, the limited forage supply from 2012, the delayed second cutting of haycrop, and the harvest of corn for silage is several weeks away, many farms will need to stretch their forage supply. Some things for consideration in stretching forage supply are:

  • If quality of the corn silage can be maintained, milk production will likely be better if the amount of corn silage is reduced in the ration rather than running completely out of it. On the other hand, if quality of the silage can’t be maintained with the reduced feeding rate, it is better to have the ration re-formulated without corn silage than continuously feeding spoiled corn silage.
  • Whole linted cottonseed (WCS) is the best concentrate source to use as a forage extender. Limit WCS to 5 to 6 lb/day per cow because of its unsaturated fat content. High fiber concentrate feeds, such as distillers grains, brewers grains, wheat middlings, corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, citrus pulp, etc., can be used to replace some corn and to limit the starch content in rations. However, review the prices of ingredients shared in this issue of Buckeye Dairy News.
  • If corn silage is the sole forage or low forage diets are fed, careful balancing for effective fiber to stimulate rumination and providing adequate particle size of the forage becomes very important. A small amount of hay or straw can provide effective fiber to maintain rumen health with feeding such diets.
  • If more rapidly fermented starch sources are used (e.g., wheat, barley, high moisture corn, and steam-flaked corn) than dry corn, replace no more than 50% of the dry corn or increase the amount of fiber in the ration.
  • With low forage diets, always add a buffer to the ration at about 0.8% of DM.

At this time of the year, especially with the 2012 growing conditions, management of forage feeding is very critical for sustained high milk production and sound cow health. If additional forage is going to need to be purchased in 2013, now is the time to be acquiring it. Some options are solidifying agreements on purchasing standing forage, visit some of the hay auctions that occur regularly in local communities, or seek forage available outside the state, e.g. a web based listing of forage availability has been made available through the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension:  Also, plan ahead by visiting with your nutritionist now so alternative ration formulations can be on hand in anticipation of changes in forage supplies.