Buckeye Dairy News: VOLUME 22, ISSUE 2

  1. Milk Prices, Costs of Nutrients, Margins and Comparison of Feedstuffs Prices

    April Frye White, Graduate Research Associate, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    Milk prices

    In the last issue, the Class III futures for January and February were at $19.91 and $17.01/cwt, respectively. The Class III component price for January closed nearly $3/cwt lower at $17.05/cwt and was only slightly lower in February at $17.00/cwt. The Class III future for March is slightly lower than February component prices at $16.23/cwt, followed by a drop to $15.73/cwt in April. Longer term market outlooks are uncertain as global health events continue to impact the economy and demand.

    Nutrient prices

    As in previous issues, feed ingredients commonly used in Ohio were analyzed using the software program SESAME™ developed by Dr. St-Pierre at The Ohio State University. The resulting analysis can be used to appraise important nutrients in dairy rations, estimate break-even prices of ingredients, and identify feedstuffs that are significantly underpriced as of March 26, 2020. Price estimates of net energy lactation (NEL, $/Mcal), metabolizable protein (MP, $/lb; MP is the sum of the digestible microbial protein and digestible rumen-undegradable protein of a feed), non-effective NDF (ne-NDF, $/lb), and effective NDF (e-NDF, $/lb) are reported in Table 1. 

    When comparing the prices in Table 1 to the 5-year averages, the current prices of nutrients are good. For NEL and MP, they are both about 23% and 15% lower compared to the 5-year averages ($0.08/Mcal and $0.43/lb, respectively). However, the price of e-NDF is still about 20% higher compared to the 5-year average. The price of MP and e-NDF are both about 5% and 62% higher than January ($0.35/lb and $0.11/lb, respectively). This is reflective of the quality of forage harvested last year, as well as the increased cost of several high protein feed ingredients shown in Table 2.

    To estimate profitability at these nutrient prices, the Cow-Jones Index was used for average US cows weighing 1500 lb and producing milk with 3.9% fat and 3.2% protein. For March’s issue, the income over nutrient cost (IONC) for cows milking 70 and 85 lb/day is about $10.61 and $11.13/cwt, respectively. This is nearly $3/cwt lower than estimates from January ($13.39 and $13.83/cwt, respectively). The current IONC should be profitable for Ohio dairy farmers. As a word of caution, these estimates of IONC do not account for the cost of replacements or dry cows.

    Overall, the lower forecasted milk prices but stagnant to low feed prices should still give producers a chance to continue to pay down debts the rest of 2020.

    Table 1. Prices of dairy nutrients for Ohio dairy farms, March 26, 2020.

    Economic Value of Feeds

    Results of the Sesame analysis for central Ohio on March 26, 2020 are presented in Table 2. Detailed results for all 26 feed commodities are reported. The lower and upper limits mark the 75% confidence range for the predicted (break-even) prices. Feeds in the “Appraisal Set” were those for which we didn’t have a price or were adjusted to reflect their true (“Corrected”) value in a lactating diet. One must remember that SESAME™ compares all commodities at one specific point in time. Thus, the results do not imply that the bargain feeds are cheap on a historical basis.

    Table 2. Actual, breakeven (predicted) and 75% confidence limits of 26 feed commodities used on Ohio dairy farms, March 26, 2020.
     For convenience, Table 3 summarizes the economic classification of feeds according to their outcome in the SESAME™ analysis. Feedstuffs that have gone up in price based on current nutrient values or in other words moved a column to the right since the last issue are red. Conversely, feedstuffs that have moved to the left (i.e., decreased in value) are green. These shifts (i.e., feeds moving columns to the left or right) in price are only temporary changes relative to other feedstuffs within the last two months and do not reflect historical prices.

    Table 3. Partitioning of feedstuffs in Ohio, March 26, 2020.

    Bargains At Breakeven Overpriced
    Corn, ground, dry Alfalfa hay - 40% NDF Soybean hulls
    Corn silage Bakery byproducts Blood meal
    Distillers dried grains 41% Cottonseed meal Fish meal
    Feather meal 48% Soybean meal Mechanically extracted canola meal
    Gluten feed Beet pulp Molasses
    Hominy Wheat bran Solvent extracted canola meal
    Whole cottonseed Meat meal 44% Soybean meal
    Wheat middlings   Tallow
    Soybean meal - expeller   Whole, roasted soybeans
        Gluten meal

    As coined by Dr. St-Pierre, I must remind the readers that these results do not mean that you can formulate a balanced diet using only feeds in the “bargains” column. Feeds in the “bargains” column offer a savings opportunity, and their usage should be maximized within the limits of a properly balanced diet. In addition, prices within a commodity type can vary considerably because of quality differences as well as non-nutritional value added by some suppliers in the form of nutritional services, blending, terms of credit, etc. Also, there are reasons that a feed might be a very good fit in your feeding program while not appearing in the “bargains” column. For example, your nutritionist might be using some molasses in your rations for reasons other than its NEL and MP content


    For those of you who use the 5-nutrient group values (i.e., replace metabolizable protein by rumen degradable protein and digestible rumen undegradable protein), see Table 4 below.

    Table 4. Prices of dairy nutrients using the 5-nutrient solution for Ohio dairy farms, March 26, 2020.


  2. Turbulence in the Dairy Industry

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

    Spring is underway, and thus, we expect it to be windy. However, the direction from which the wind is blowing can affect the warmth or chill experienced. In addition, the magnitude of the gusts can determine the impact of the wind. This somewhat describes the current pandemic situation on the direct and indirect impacts to the dairy industry. Domestic demand and exports are in flux on the dairy product side. On Friday, March 27, prices for all market classes fell for dairy products given the uncertainly of domestic demand with suspension of the operation of restaurants, fluctuating demand in retail stores, and uncertainly of the benefit of recently approved USDA funds to benefit farmers. An article appearing in Hoard’s Dairyman during March (https://hoards.com/article-27491-covid-19-will-dairy-demand-hit-the-ditch.html) estimates that milk equivalent usage drops 1.3% for a COVID-19 month compared to a normal month. Among other changes are the shifts in components prices, mainly the focus on fat and protein, as discussed in the January Issue of Buckeye Dairy News.

    With less travel in the US with the ‘shelter in place’, fuel use for automobiles has drastically dropped and thus so has gas prices. The average US gas price today is $2.02/gal, which is $0.67 less than one year ago, $0.43 less than a month ago, and $0.11 less than one week ago, with some areas reporting $1.30/gal or less. With this lower demand for fuel, the demand for ethanol follows. Because of this lower demand, some ethanol plants are reducing production and others are closing. This is having a gusty impact on the availability and price of distillers grains and a downward impact on the price of corn. Distillers grains are fed to livestock for energy from the fiber and fat and for protein. Thus, the reduced availability of distillers grains will increase the demand and price for soybean meal as an alternative protein source. These trends are already been observed in the market place with increased prices for 48% soybean meal and distillers grains and a reduction in the price of corn from January to March as evidenced by the article written by April Frye in each issue of the Buckeye Dairy News (Table 1). From January to March, the price of distillers gains increased $22/T, corn decreased $4/T, and soybean meal increased $16/T. Although each of these feeds are ‘good buys’ based on the predicted values, this will not remain for distillers grains because of lack of availability. At current prices, the substitution of corn and 48% soybean meal for the distillers grains will have minimum effect on feed cost. In addition to soybean meal, be observant to other sources of protein that may be economical for feeding (see Table 3 in April’s article in this issue of BDN).

    As storms develop, we often are unable to measure the impact until after the event due to the uncertainty of the damage before it hits. While many of us were focusing on the many aspects of COVID-19 on our personal life, our work situation, and some segments of the dairy industry, we were not expecting the impact on feed prices by closure of ethanol plants. There will most likely be other direct and indirect impacts yet arise. With the current changes in the price for milk components and the changes in feed ingredient prices, a careful look at rations with your nutritionist is necessary and then monitor income over feed costs after ration changes are made. Be watchful and know when to take cover and when to keep plowing ahead.

    Table 1. Actual and predicted prices for corn, distillers dried grains, and soybean meal for January and March, 2020.


    January 2020

    March 2020

    Actual ($/ton)

    Predicted Value ($/T)

    Actual ($/ton)

    Predicted Value ($/T)

    Corn, dry ground





    Distillers dried grains





    Soybean meal, 48% CP





  3. On Farm Biosecurity to Keep Us and Employees Safe

    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator, Crawford County;
    Dr. Gustavo Schuenemann, Extension Dairy Veterinarian, The Ohio State University Extension

    Agriculture is no stranger to contagious disease. Drawing on sanitation experiences from outbreaks, such as avian and swine influenza or the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom in 2001, can help us through the current pandemic. Looking back at many of these experiences, we know that we can pull together maybe from a distance and get through the current human viral outbreak and keep our farms running. Unless they are sick, farmers don’t usually tell their workers to stay home, but through keeping social distance on the farm and increasing many of our tried and true disinfection protocols, we can all stay healthy.  One big difference is that instead of disinfecting our boots, we need to disinfect all surfaces around us and all our employees touch. This may also be a good time to review the visitation requirements you have on your farm. To keep you and your service providers safe, be sure to follow all their company requests and keep your distance when they come onto the farm or respect their calling instead of coming for a visit.  

    This first thing that came to mind looking around our farm and the feed tractor is the need to do a deep cleaning before any disinfectant can work. Most disinfectants won’t work if the surface has any organic material present. I often remember one professor at OSU saying “you can’t Disinfect shit”. As a first step, wear a pair of disposable gloves and scrub all surfaces that are touched so that you can use a disinfectant on them. Once all surfaces are clean, filling a one-gallon hand sprayer with disinfectant to spray all surfaces down at the end of each shift can be helpful. If this sprayer was previously used for pesticides, be sure to triple rinse it with a tank cleaning agent or ammonia. The EPA has many different disinfectant options available: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2. Concentration is very important, but a few common active ingredients on this list are sodium hypochlorite, sodium chlorite, ethanol, quaternary ammonia, and hydrogen peroxide. If using a bleach solution, the goal is a minimum of 1000 ppm sodium hypochlorite or for household bleach, 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water.

    High Touch Surfaces

    A few high touch surfaces to consider are tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, power switches for large motors, phones, tablets, touch screens, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, sinks, cabinet handles, mailbox handle, shop hand tools, welders, all tractor controls, tractor seats, hand rails, high touch areas in the barn, rattle paddles, all controls in milking parlor, and anything else people may touch. 

    Porous Surfaces on the Farm

    For porous surfaces, such as tractor seats, it may be beneficial to wrap them in plastic to allow for better cleaning. Once wrapped in plastic, these surfaces can be treated the same as all other high tough areas. Vinyl seats should be treated as a hard surface, high touch.


    Discourage farm workers from using their personal electronic devices while at the farm. If you have an electronics cleaner, use that; otherwise, keyboards, mouse, and touch screens can be cleaned with at least a 70% alcohol disinfectant spray or wipe. Plastic covers may be available for keyboards and touch screens. 

    Sharing Objects

    Be cautious when handling and sharing objects (e.g., pens, clipboard, etc.) that are used as part of your daily routine. Many objects are often used by multiple employees during the same or different shifts.  Hand-washing, disinfection, and wearing disposable gloves is recommended for all employees on the farm. If possible, provide additional supplies of these items that are typically shared and assign them to each employee, so they no longer must share them.  

    Additional considerations:

    • Have employees always wear gloves.
    • Each person should have their own welding gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • When possible, assign a tractor to a single person.
    • Maintain the 6-foot social distance when having a conversation; stay a cow length apart.
    • Assign individual projects when safely possible (e.g., one shop project per person).
    • Put hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in all machinery and work areas.


    Questions Regarding the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) on Farms with Employees: https://wayne.osu.edu/sites/wayne/files/imce/COVID-19%20Farm%20Employees%20FAQ%27s%20English.pdf

    Disinfection in On-Farm Biosecurity Procedures: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/vme-8

    Cleaning and Disinfection for Households: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html

    Biosecurity Fundamentals for Extension Personnel: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/vme-5

  4. Using Protocols to Train Farm Employees

    Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Wayne County, Ohio State University Extension

    Establishing and teaching protocols for crucial farm tasks forms the foundation of training farm employees. Strictly speaking, protocol is defined as a set of rules or standards to guide conduct or format. Within the context of a farm, protocols are defined as a set of steps or procedures that guide or define how a larger task is accomplished. Protocols are useful because they lay out the details of a specific task. Protocols allow a farm employee to know what the farm manager/owner and/or their supervisor expects of them regarding the task. In this time of dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus, protocols are useful to cross train farm employees and build some resiliency into the farm operation.

    Whether the farm utilizes only family labor, family plus non-family labor, or only non-family labor, protocols can be used to improve communication and expectations about how a specific task should be accomplished. Good protocols have two basic characteristics; they are followed by employees and second, they produce a desired result. Unfortunately, just putting something down in writing does not guarantee employees will follow the instruction, or if they do, that the results are positive. Sometimes protocols are poorly written, too long, too complicated, or they may use terms, words, and expressions that are not understood. Sometimes protocols don’t account for the actual work environment and are not practical.

    Use the following tips to write useful, effective protocols.Take a team approach. Team members can include industry professionals/consultants, as well as farm employees and family members. As an example, for health-related tasks, such as a vaccination protocol or treatment protocol for an illness, work with the farm’s veterinarian. If the protocol involves equipment maintenance, work with the appropriate equipment dealer. To help increase the readability of a protocol, include photos, drawings, charts, or graphs. If English is a second language for some of your employees, can you have the protocol written in their native language? An article I read on writing farm protocols from Michigan State Extension suggested that successful protocols are based or built upon solid research, adapted to your farm situation.

    Training around the written protocols is essential to ensuring the protocols are used by farm employees. Training should include clear explanations of why the farm wants a specific task done in this way.  Employees are more likely to follow a procedure if they understand the why behind the procedure. For example, why should a pre-dip be left on cow teats for 30 seconds before wiping it off? Why is 90 to 120 seconds needed between the time the udder is first touched until the milking unit is attached? If the employee just sees this kind of timing as a rule, the temptation is to speed the process up, cut some corners, and save time. Understanding why helps the farm employee to take ownership of the protocol.

    Protocol training is not a one and done type of deal. Over time, it is natural to see drift away from protocols, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, a step gets left out or it is not followed completely.  It is common to see protocols get modified over time by employees in the interest of saving time. For this reason, it is necessary to have regular and consistent refresher sessions. This is a good reminder for experienced employees and helps newer employees as well. In some cases, adherence to protocols can be tied into job performance expectations and/or bonuses.

    Another key to making sure protocols achieve good results and improve farm efficiency and profitability is to use a farm team to review protocols annually.  Does each protocol still make sense?  Has there been some type of change in the farm or farm operation that requires the protocol to be changed or modified?  For example, a new piece of equipment or machinery, remodeling of facilities, etc.  Has anything changed regarding how we understand a specific management practice?  Protocols can be updated, edited, added, or removed.  Ask employees for feedback on protocols; ask them what can be improved.

    As an example, a milking protocol might include the following steps. The milker should wear disposable gloves. Before attaching the milking unit, dry wipe any bedding material from the teats/udder.  Forestrip three to four streams of milk from each teat. Pre dip each teat, covering the lower ¾ of the teat. Repeat on 3 to 5 cows. Return to first cow, wipe off teat dip and teat end. Attach milking unit at 90 to 120 seconds after the first contact with this cow’s udder. Adjust milking unit and proceed to the next 3 to 5 cows, maintaining the pre-milking unit attachment order.

    Farm managers should embrace written protocols as a tool to train farm employees. The goal of protocols is to ensure consistency in performance among employees and give employees more confidence in doing their job. 

  5. Update to the OARDC Feed Energy Equation

    Dr. Bill Weiss, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University, Wooster

    The equation used by many feed testing labs to estimate net energy for lactation (NEL) values is based on equations developed at OARDC in 1984 and 1992. Minor adjustments have been made since then, but our lab is in the process of making a major update to the equation. Because the equation is summative, an equation component for one nutrient can be changed without affecting the other components. The original simplified equation estimated the digestible energy (DE) provided by crude protein (CP), non-fiber carbohydrate (NFC), fat, and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) as:

    Protein DE (Mcal/lb) = 0.023*CP

    NFC DE (Mcal/lb) = 0.018*(100-NDF – Ash – CP – Fat)

    Fat DE (Mcal/lb) = 0.042*Fat

    NDF DE (Mcal/lb) = 0.015*((NDF-Lignin)*(1-[(Lignin/NDF)0.667]))

    where all nutrients are entered as % of DM.

    Those values are summed and metabolic fecal energy (0.14 Mcal/lb) is subtracted to yield the DE concentration (Mcal/lb) of the feed. Then standard equations are used to convert DE to metabolizable energy (ME) and finally to NEL:

    ME (Mcal/lb) = (1.01*DE) – 0.20

    NEL (Mcal/lb) = 0.66* ME

    When our equation was developed, commercial feed testing labs did not measure starch, but it is now a routine assay. One improvement we are making to our equation is to replace NFC with starch and a fraction we call residual organic matter (ROM) which is comprised of sugars, soluble fiber, fermentation acids, and several minor components. The concentration of ROM is calculated as: 100 – Ash – CP – NDF – Fat – Starch (all nutrients as % of DM). The NFC fraction of grains and corn silage is mostly starch, but for many other feeds, ROM predominates.

    From experiments conducted at Ohio State, we found that the true digestibility of ROM is very high (96%) and is uniform across a diversity of diets. On the other hand, starch digestibility by dairy cows can vary from < 80% to essentially 100%, depending on the feed, and we know many of the factors responsible for that variation. Our revised equation will be as the one above except the NFC term is deleted and replaced with these 2 terms:

    ROM (Mcal/lb): 0.017*(100-NDF-Ash-CP-Fat-Starch)

    Starch (Mcal/lb): StDig*0.019*Starch

    where StDig is the digestibility of starch, which varies depending on the feed. Current best estimates of starch digestibility for major starch sources are in Table 1. For feeds not shown, assume a starch digestibility of 92% (entered in the equation as 0.92). The data in Table 1 are from a variety of published sources.

    Table 1. Average starch digestibility for major starch sources.1

    Feed Starch Digestibility
    Finely ground dry corn (particle size <1000 um) 0.92
    Medium ground dry corn (1500-3000 um) 0.89
    Coarse ground dry corn (>3500 um) 0.80
    Ground high moisture corn (>27% moisture) 0.96
    Rolled high moisture corn (>27% moisture) 0.90
    Steam-flaked corn (<28 lb/bushel density) 0.94
    Rolled dry barley 0.91
    Rolled dry wheat 0.93
    Immature corn silage (<30% DM) 0.91
    Normal corn silage (32-37% DM) 0.88
    Mature corn silage (>40% DM)2 0.84

    1Ranges in particle size and DM are not continuous, indicating the uncertainty with the estimates. If particle sizes or DM are not in the table, you can interpolate between rows.
    2If kernel processed through rollers with < 3 mm gap, increase starch digestibility to 0.87 (Ferraretto and Shaver, 2012; Prof. Animal Scientist 28:141).

    Replacing the NFC term in our energy equation with ROM and starch improves the accuracy of predicting NEL, especially for feeds that are not ‘average’, such as mature corn silage, very finely or very coarsely ground corn, or extensively processed steam- flaked corn.

    Future articles will outline additional changes we are making to the equation.

  6. Effects of Dietary Protein Level in Dry Cows and Heifers on Milk Production

    Alex Tebbe, Graduate Research Associate, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    In a recent meta-analysis conducted at the University of Florida, Husnain and Santos (2019) determined how the crude protein (CP) level fed to dry cows and heifers before calving affects milk production in early lactation. The researchers collected over 125 treatment means from published journal articles. Most studies used Holstein dry cows and heifers. About 20% of those studies provided separate production data for 1st lactation and 2+ lactation cows, which were used to investigate whether effects of protein level differ based on parity. They also collected all diet information and calculated metabolizable protein (MP) intake using the NRC (2001). Husnain and Santos (2019) hypothesized that heifers would require a greater MP intake than dry cows to maximize milk production. This is because heifers are still growing before calving unlike dry cows, and more MP would be required for heifer growth in addition to requirements for maintenance and pregnancy (i.e., fetal and mammary growth).

    In heifers, increasing MP intake from 800 to 1,100 g/day linearly increased dry matter (DM) intake after calving (+3.7 lb/day), yields of milk (+2.4 lb/day), milk fat (+0.11 lb/day) and protein (+0.07 lb/day), and body weight (+ 33 lb). The authors found similar responses for MP concentration. A MP intake of 1,100 g/day would be about 11% MP of diet DM or 14 to 15% CP of diet DM for a late gestation heifer consuming 22 lb/day of DM.

    In dry cows, increasing MP intake from 800 to 1,100 g/day did not improve intake or milk yields after calving (averages of 43 lb/day of DM intake and 81 lb/day of milk). The only benefit of dry cows consuming greater than 800 g/day of MP was for cows producing >80 lb/day of milk, which had increased milk protein yields (+0.07 lb/day); lower producing cows (<65 lb/day) did not have increased milk protein yield. The authors found similar responses for MP concentration. Around 8% MP of diet DM or 12 to 13% CP of diet DM are adequate for most dry cows.

    Overall, results from the meta-analysis confirmed the NRC (2001) recommendations that heifers require more MP than cows.  If management conditions allow feeding late gestation heifers and dry cows separately, income over feed costs could be improved by feeding heifers more MP (11% MP of diet DM) compared to dry cows (8% MP of diet DM).  


    Husnain, A., and J. Santos. 2019. Meta-analysis of the effects of prepartum dietary protein on performance of dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 102: 9791-9813.

    NRC. 2001. Nutrient requirements of dairy cattle, 7th rev. ed. Natl. Acad. Press, Washington, DC.

  7. How to Get Ready for Spring Planting Now

    Dr. Mark Sulc, Professor and Extension Forage Specialist;
    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator, Crawford County;
    and Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Wayne County, The Ohio State University

    The weather outlook for our spring planting season is not encouraging, as it is expected to be wetter than normal again, although hopefully not as bad as 2019. The purpose of this article is to stimulate our planning and preparation now so we will be ready to take full advantage of what is expected to be very short and few windows of opportunity to be in the fields this spring. In this article, we focus on planting forage crops, but the process and many of the ideas will pertain to other spring field work activities.

    Begin your planning by mentally walking through what you will do the day you plant. It might even help jog your thoughts to actually physically “walk through” those activities. List every single activity needed to get the whole job done. Then ask the question, “Which of these activities can I do today, or what can I do now that will make that activity go smoothly and efficiently on planting day?” Then start doing everything that is possible to do ahead of time, so that no time is wasted on the day you can get in the field. Below are some examples.

    1. Make sure your fuel supply is full and fill the tanks of all tractors that will be used. Service all tractors.
    2. Get any needed fertilizer on hand or order it to be spread as soon as the field is fit (hopefully you pulled a soil sample last fall, and if not, do it now and send to the lab).
    3. Calibrate the fertilizer spreader.
    4. Buy the seed (including any companion crops you will use) and have it on the farm, if not done so already.
    5. Buy inoculant if seed is not pre-inoculated.
    6. Service all tillage equipment that will be used and have it ready to go, including having it hooked up to the tractor if possible.
    7. Get the drill/planter out and service it so it is ready to go. Arrange for equipment you will rent or borrow.
    8. Calibrate the drill to the desired seeding rate using the seed that will be planted and then don’t touch the drill settings. Watch this video about calibrating drills: https://forages.osu.edu/video/drill-calibration?width=657px&height=460px&inline=true#colorbox-inline-239078345).
    9. If contracting the planting, get agreements and expectations in place now.
    10. Finally, list the field work tasks that you need to do this spring when the weather and soils are fit, then prioritize them. Think through the tough choices you might have to make between competing activities. Think through contingency plans if each specific activity cannot be completed in a timely manner, or if it can’t get done at all this spring because of wet weather.

    This last #10 on the list is the hardest. When the windows of opportunity are shorter than the list of work that can be accomplished, then tough choices are necessary. For example, how do you prioritize planting forages versus manure spreading in the spring? It will likely depend on the specific situation. If the manure is stored in a lagoon, then when the lagoon is full, the manure must be pumped out and spread on the field rather than planting forages, so the forage planting might have to wait. But planting forages too late in the spring brings a lot of risk to stand establishment and low yields (maybe only one cutting). In that case, it might be better to plant a summer annual for a couple cuttings, then kill it and plant the perennial forages in August. But if the manure is a dry pack, perhaps it is better to take those first days of field work to plant the perennial forage and spread the manure later. Thinking through these choices and establishing a game plan will help you be more efficient and not waste time being undecisive or making a less than optimal choice for the situation.

    We surely all hope for a better spring than in 2019, but we are also being told it probably will be challenging. Thus, prepare as much as possible now so you can make good decisions when the time comes. You don’t want to waste hours of potential field planting doing stuff you can do today. Try to be completely ready, as if you will be planting tomorrow morning…which we hope will be true one day very soon!

  8. Establishing New Forage Stands

    Dr. Mark Sulc, Professor and Extension Forage Specialist, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University

    Early spring provides one of the two preferred times to seed perennial cool-season forages, the other being late summer. Two primary difficulties with spring plantings are finding a good window of opportunity when soils are dry enough. The outlook for this spring is for planting opportunities to be few and short. As planting is delayed, the risk increases because of more competition from weeds and summer heat when seedlings are small and vulnerable to drying out. An accompanying article on preparing for planting along with the following 10 steps will help improve your chances for successful forage establishment in the spring.

    1. Make sure soil pH and fertility are in the recommended ranges. Follow the Tri-State Soil Fertility Recommendations (https://forages.osu.edu/forage-management/soil-fertility-forages). Forages are more productive where soil pH is above 6.0, but for alfalfa it should be 6.5 to 6.8. Soil phosphorus should be at least 15 ppm for grasses and 25 ppm for legumes, while minimum soil potassium in ppm should be 75 plus 2.5 x soil cation exchange capacity (CEC). If seedings are to include alfalfa, and soil pH is not at least 6.5, it would be best to apply lime now and delay establishing alfalfa until late summer (plant an annual grass forage in the interim).
    2. Plant high quality seed of a known varietal source adapted to our region. Planting “common” seed (variety not stated) usually proves to be a very poor investment, yielding less even in the first or second year and having shorter stand life.
    3. Plant as soon as it is possible to prepare a good seedbed in April. Try to finish seeding by the end of April in southern Ohio and by the first of May in northern Ohio. Timely April planting gives forage seedlings the best opportunity to get a jump on weeds and to be established before summer stress sets in. Weed pressure will be greater with later plantings, and they will not have as strong a root system developed by early summer when conditions often turn dry and hot. Later plantings also yield less, so if planting is delayed, it might be better to plant a summer annual and establish the perennial forages in August.
    4. Plant into a good seedbed. The ideal seedbed for conventional seedings is smooth, firm, and weed-free. Don’t overwork the soil. Too much tillage depletes moisture and increases the risk of surface crusting. Firm the seedbed before seeding to ensure good seed-soil contact and reduce the rate of drying in the seed zone. Cultipackers and cultimulchers are excellent implements for firming the soil. If residue cover is more than 35%, use a no-till drill. No-till seeding is an excellent choice where soil erosion is a hazard. No-till forage seedings are most successful on silt loam soils with good drainage and are more difficult on clay soils or poorly drained soils.
    5. Be sure to take time to calibrate forage seeders because seed flow can vary greatly even among varieties, depending on the seed treatment and coatings applied. A good video on this entitled “Drill Calibration” is at https://forages.osu.edu/video/.
    6. Plant seed shallow (¼  to ½ inch deep) in good contact with the soil. Stop and check the actual depth of the seed in the field when you first start planting. This is especially important with no-till drills. In my experience, seeing some seed on the surface indicates most of the seed is about at the right depth.
    7. When seeding into a tilled seedbed, drills with press wheels are the best choice. When seeding without press wheels or when broadcasting seed, cultipack before and after dropping the seed, preferably in the same direction the seeder was driven.
    8. In fields with little erosion hazard, direct seedings without a companion crop in the spring allows harvesting two or three crops of high-quality forage in the seeding year, particularly when seeding alfalfa and red clover. For conventional seedings on erosion prone fields, a small grain companion crop can reduce the erosion hazard and will also help compete with weeds. Companion crops like oats can also help on soils prone to surface crusting. Companion crops usually increase total forage tonnage in the seeding year, but forage quality will be lower than direct seeded legumes. Take the following precautions to avoid excessive competition of the companion crop with forage seedlings: (i) use early-maturing, short, and stiff-strawed small grain varieties, (ii) plant companion small grains at 1.5 to 2.0 bu/acre, (iii) remove companion crop as early pasture or silage, and (iv) do not apply additional nitrogen to the companion crop.
    9. During the first 6 to 8 weeks after seeding, scout new seedings weekly for any developing weed or insect problems. Weed competition during the first six weeks is most damaging to stand establishment. Potato leafhopper damage on legumes in particular can be a concern beginning in late May to early June.
    10. The first harvest of the new seeding should generally be delayed until early flowering of legumes, unless weeds were not controlled adequately and are threatening to smother the stand. For pure grass seedings, generally harvest after 70 days from planting, unless weeds are encroaching, in which case the stand should be clipped earlier to avoid weed seed production.

    Prepare a firm seedbed for conventional forage seedings.

  9. Determining Forage Moisture Content

    Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Wayne County;
    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator, Crawford County;
    and Dr. Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist, The Ohio State University

    Stored forage is an important component of many livestock operations. Stored forage quality is dependent upon several key factors, including forage maturity at harvest, forage moisture content at harvest, and forage storage conditions. Stored forages are produced and fed primarily as either dry hay, baleage, or silage. After forage maturity, the quality of a stored forage is greatly dependent upon moisture content at harvest. Given that moisture content is so important, what tools and methods are available to help producers determine forage moisture content to make good harvest decisions?

    The primary methods used to determine forage moisture are either some type of hand grab, twist, or squeeze test or the use of some instrument/tool. By far, the most common method of determining forage moisture content is some variation of the hand test. For forage that will be baled, grab a sample from the windrow and tightly twist it. Depending upon how quickly the grab sample springs back or “untwists” determines if the forage is too wet, too dry, or ready to be baled. Table 1 shows guidelines published years ago in Hoard’s Dairyman for estimating moisture ranges in hay that will be baled. For a chopped forage, a hand sample is grabbed and squeezed into a ball. Upon release, the sampler watches how quickly the ball falls apart to determine if the forage is ready to be ensiled. 

    Table 1. Sensory assessment of moisture content of drying hay.




    Leaves begin to rustle and do not give up moisture unless rubbed hard. Juice easily extruded from stems using thumbnail or knife or with difficulty by twisting with hands.


    Hay rustles – a bundle twisted in the hands will snap with difficulty but should extrude no surface moisture. Thick stems extrude moisture if scraped with thumbnail.


    Hay rustles readily – a bundle will snap easily if twisted, leaves may shatter, a few juicy stems remain.


    Swath-made hay fractures easily, snaps easily when twisted, juice difficult to extrude.

    Reproduced from Hoard’s Dairyman, Vol. 132, 1987.

    There is as much art as there is science to the various hand methods and experience plays a role in the “calibration” process. There is no denying that a lot of good quality stored forage gets made with these methods of determining forage moisture, so it can’t be pooh-poohed and written off. However, for those who may want more certainty and an actual forage moisture percentage number, there are some other tools that can be considered.

    Tools available to determine forage moisture include a microwave oven, commercial forage moisture testers, hand-constructed vortex dryers, moisture probes, and moisture sensors built into harvest equipment. Each has some advantages and disadvantages, but each used with the proper knowledge and protocol can help the forage producer more accurately determine forage moisture.  Each of the following tools/testers requires that a good representative sample is collected to produce a reliable result. As with most sampling systems, taking an average of several samples increases the confidence level of the moisture reading. When sampling windrows, be sure to sample the entire cross section (top, middle, and bottom) from multiple areas of the field.

    The microwave oven is commonly available and can provide forage moisture determination to within 1 to 2% of actual forage moisture in about 20 minutes. The biggest drawback to using a microwave is that the forage material can catch on fire if the sampler is not being careful as the forage dries down to its endpoint moisture. The procedure involves weighing out 100 grams (fresh weight) of a representative forage sample that has been cut into pieces no larger than one inch in length. On a microwave safe plate, place a paper towel. Weigh and record this “plate” weight. Add the forage sample, spreading it as evenly as possible over the paper towel on the plate.  Weight the plate, towel and forage and record this initial weight. Place a 10- or 12-ounce coffee mug of water inside a corner of the microwave, place the plate and forage sample in the center, set the microwave setting on high and “cook” the sample for about 3 minutes. Remove the plate and sample, weigh it and record the weight.  Change the water in the cup. Replace the water cup and sample in the microwave and cook it for another 2 minutes.  Again, remove the sample, weigh it and record the weight.  Repeat this process until the weight does not change by more than one gram. Record that weight as the final weight. Important note: As the forage gets closer to its final moisture content, run the microwave in shorter time intervals and change water as necessary to avoid igniting the sample. To calculate the forage moisture of the sample, use the following equation:

    Moisture % = [(Initial weight – Final weight) / (Initial weight – Plate weight)] x 100

    Commercial forage moisture testers use either heat or electrical conductivity to come up with a moisture reading. Heat type testers include a heating unit and a fan. Like a microwave, they need to be plugged into a power source to work. They determine moisture content by forcing heated air through a forage sample of known weight. Unlike a microwave, they do not require constant supervision/monitoring. Depending upon the initial forage moisture, the process takes 25 to 35 minutes. Accuracy is within 3% of oven dried samples. Forage samples should be in pieces that are 1 to 2 inches in length. The advantage over a microwave is that the risk of setting fire to the sample is reduced. For many producers, the biggest disadvantage of this type of tester is the cost. The Koster forage moisture tester is a familiar name and can be purchased for approximately $350 to $400, depending upon the model and need for a scale, from many sources, including NASCO. The “Best Harvest” silage, hay crop moisture tester brand is another example, with a cost of $400 to $450.

    Forage moisture testers that use electrical conductivity include probes and sensors mounted on balers/harvest equipment. The advantage of these types of testers is that they provide near instantaneous moisture readings. Cost is a factor. Depending upon the model of the tester probe, they can cost anywhere from $180 to $300 or more. Sensors on your baler or harvesting equipment may add $275 to $400 to the price tag. For the most advanced systems that can mark hi-moisture bales, the cost can be over $1000, or when systems also manage variable rate preservative application, cost can be over $2500. Depending on the system, the accuracy may only be ±5%. There are some other factors with these testers that affect their reliability. Probes generally do not do a good job of measuring moisture of forage in a windrow. The electronic moisture testers are most accurate in densely packed forage. To increase reliability, grab a representative forage sample from a windrow and pack it into a PVC tube.  Insert the probe into the densely packed forage material and take various forage moisture readings at different depths in the tube (a description of this method is available in an article at https://www.progressiveforage.com/forage-production/equipment/windrow-moisture-testing-made-easy). Sensors on balers and harvesting equipment begin to lose accuracy and reliability as forage material over time leaves gummy residues on the sensor. Periodic cleaning and calibration of the sensor is needed to maintain accurate readings.

    A final option that combines the accuracy of a heat drying tester with a more reasonable price tag is the vortex dryer. Penn State Extension developed the vortex dryer. It uses a common hand-held hair dryer, some CPVC tubing, some galvanized steel, a furnace filter, window screen, and some plywood. Cost will be approximately $50 to $60 to assemble in the farm shop. Forage sample size in the vortex dryer is 200 grams. The procedure is basically the same as with a microwave oven, starting with an initial weight and drying the sample until the weight does not change more than one gram.  Accuracy is within 1% of a drying oven. Hay samples will take 20 to 25 minutes to dry, while forage silage/corn silage samples can take 40 to 60 minutes to get a final moisture determination. More information about the Penn State Vortex Dryer, including a list of materials, how to assemble, and how to use the dryer are available online at https://extension.psu.edu/a-vortex-forage-and-biomass-sample-dryer.

    Determining forage moisture can help producers make more accurate decisions regarding timing for baling and ensiling to ensure a safe and stable final product. There are tools available to help with that decision.

  10. Keeping Cows and Calves Cool Through Ventilation System Maintenance

    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator, Crawford County, Ohio State University Extension

    Spring is in the air, with the tulips and daffodils starting to bloom, and alfalfa fields coming back to life. It is also the time when our barn ventilation systems roar back to life to keep our cows and calves cool. While an inefficient system may not create problems now, it is wasting energy, and by summer, it will be creating problems when your livestock are experiencing heat stress. Ventilation systems often consume between 20 to 25% of the total energy used on the farm.

    Fan maintenance is critical to keeping your cows cool and saving energy. Lack of cleaning can reduce a fan efficiency by as much as 40%. This means that your electric bill stays the same, but less air is moving through the barn. Monthly maintenance through the summer is critical to keep fans clean. Even a thin layer of dirt on the fan blades, shutters, and protective shrouds decreases air movement and increases the power requirements from the fan. Heavy cleaners and a pressure washer work well to remove dirt from the fans.

    Dirty fans in need of cleaning.

    Be sure to disconnect the power supply before washing the fan and be extra cautious of water entering unsealed motors. After washing, allow fans to dry and grease bearings before turning the power back on. During washing, inspect the fans closely using the following maintenance checklist:

    • Do all shafts turn smooth and are bearings showing wear?
    • Inspect impellers for cracks.
    • Are belts worn?
    • Are pulleys still aligned?
    • Are bolts and set-screws tight?

    While monitoring fan performance and wear can be challenging, there are a few tools that can help you. Fans should be monitored on a routine basis, such as every month in the summer or on the manufacturers recommended grease internal.

    Logbook- If you assign a number to each fan on the farm, it will help you to track the maintenance cost of each individual fan. The logbook allows you to monitor when a fan is having increased belt wear or motors that are not lasting as long as they should, which is a sign of greater problems occurring. Recording air velocity also helps to notice wear issues before they become major problems.

    Digital Anemometer-This is used to measure the air velocity to determine if fans are operating properly. Be sure to record these values in your logbook so that you can find changes in fan performance. Lower air velocity is often caused by either dirt build up or improper belt tension which allows for slippage.

    Digital Tachometer-This is used to help determine why your fan may not be producing enough air velocity. This can be used to help determine the revolutions per minute (RPM) of both your fan and the motor. When the motor is running at the correct RPM, but the blades are not, it may be due to poor belt tension, damaged or worn pulleys, or poor belt alignment.

    Groove Gage- This is used to identify pulleys that are worn and need replaced. Worn pulleys increase belt wear and slippage and decrease fan RPM. Belts should ride at the top of a pulley and not sunken into the pulley. The gage should fit tightly; if more than 1/32 inches of wear can be seen, poor belt life can be expected. If the gauge hits the bottom of the pulley, it is worn out.

    Source: Dayton motor

    Belt Tension Tester- This is used to measure the force required to move a belt 1/64inch per inch of span. It helps to trouble shoot fans that are turning slower than they should. If tension is correct but fans are turning too slow, pulleys or belts maybe worn out. If belts with spring tensioners cannot be tensioned correctly, it may be a sign that the spring tensioner is weak or that belts are stretched or improperly sized. 

    Multi-Meter-This instrument allows you to check the amp draw of the fan motor; high amp draw wastes electricity and can lead to premature motor failure. This can be caused by too high of belt tension, dirt build-up on blades and housing, or bearings that are binding and need replaced.

    When adding new or replacing ventilation fans, it important to look at more than the price. Many motors have electric efficiency ratings, but the higher efficiency motors have more copper windings which increases their cost. Often high efficiency motors pay for themselves with decreased electric consumption within one to three years. When adding or replacing fans, it is important to not buy the cheapest one but also consider the fans efficiency rating. For tunnel ventilation fans, look for a minimum efficiency rating of 20 cfm/watt at 0.05-inches static pressure. Tunnel ventilation and exhaust fans are rated under static pressure because they create a pressure difference from one side to the other, with the higher the rating the better. Circulation fans, on the other hand, have efficiency ratings based on thrust measured as pounds of force per kilowatt (Lbf/kW). The ideal minimum efficiency rating for circulation fans is 21 Lbf /kW. Similar to tunnel ventilation fans, the higher the rating the better. Larger fans often have better efficiency ratings and sometimes when paired with a variable rate controller and ran slower are more cost effective due to the increased efficiency than smaller fans.

    Through proper fan maintenance, we can keep our ventilation system working at maximum efficiency, keeping cows cool and comfortable. The ideal ventilation system will provide between 40 and 60 air changes per hour.