Management Strategies for Limited Forage Supply on Dairy Farms

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

With the excessive rainfall in 2019, forage harvests were delayed which reduced supply of high quality of forage, excessive heaving during the winter devastated many alfalfa fields which has severely reduced forage supply, and late corn plantings leave many dairy farmers with the uncertainty of yields and extent of ear development by time of frost. It is an understatement that forage yields and quality have been compromised for 2019. Thus, management strategies on the farm need to be initiated now to deal with these situations. Some suggestions include the following:

  1. Work with your nutritionist to re-formulate diets with lower forage levels. Diets typically contain 21 to 23% forage neutral detergent fiber (FNDF), but diets with as low as 16% FNDF can be fed with proper balancing of the diet for starch (20 to 25% of dietary DM), adjusting diet formulations for degradability of the grain sources (such as dry ground corn versus high moisture corn  versus other types of processed corn or other cereal grains), and providing for adequate particle size of forage for stimulation of rumination. Addition of a buffer to the diet to help maintain rumen pH is advised. Additional suggestions have been provided in the article titled “What can I do to stretch forage supplies at my farm?” (
  2. Reduce shrink of forages harvested and stored on the farm. Reducing shrink (wastage) of forages should be a focus during harvesting (field losses), storage (rapid filling and proper coverage of silage), and during feeding (losses from feed bunk and minimizing refusals).
  3. Sale unprofitable cows, extra heifers, and cows in the dry pen that are not pregnant. The focus here is to remove excess animals from the farm to reduce the forage demand. Many farms have an excessive number of heifers in inventory. Generally, 0.85 to 1.0 heifer for every cow is sufficient on the farm, but some farms carry 1.2 heifers for every cow. In certain situations, reduction of herd size for lactating cows may be necessary, especially if barns are overstocked.
  4. Feed low quality forages and feeds with variable composition in low quantities. The low quality forages on the farm should be fed primarily to the dry cows and heifers, but a small amount of low quality forage can be added to lactating cow diets to provide some of the FNDF. Also, use of various byproduct feeds can help reduce feed costs and manage low inventories of forage, but those with variable composition should be fed in low amounts.
  5. Plan to plant some cereal grains in August for Spring harvest as forage; see article titled “Forage Production Options for Ohio”
  6. Begin making plans for harvesting additional corn silage this fall, possibly from neighbors with corn not well-eared.  This could be done in current storage space or plan for putting corn silage in bags. Actually, diets with corn silage as the sole forage can be fed, but you will need to work with your nutritionist for careful balancing of the diet and monitoring cow responses. Some additional information on harvesting corn for silage that may be useful in making these decisions are:

    a.  Corn silage yield can be estimated from grain yield using the following equation:  Grain yield (bu/acre) divided by 7 = silage yield (ton/acre; 35% DM)

    b.   See article on “Pricing Standing Corn for Silage” ( and adjust the prices found in the article with the prices in the July 2019 Buckeye Dairy News.

Management of these aspects of feeding dairy cows will hopefully assist in your weathering of the 2019 forage crisis and aid in improving profitability of the farm.