Editor's note: Maurice Eastridge is a professor and extension dairy specialist at The Ohio State University.

With lingering drought in many areas, the forage supply may be limited. Quality has also been an issue. 

Some things for consideration in stretching forage supply are:

  • Whole linted cottonseed is the best concentrate source to use as a forage extender. Limit whole cottonseed to 5 to 6 pounds/ 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 limit the starch content in rations. Current prices must be compared for making economic feeding decisions. 
  • If corn silage is the sole forage, the lower limits on forage NDF should be no less than 21 percent, and adequate particle size of the forage becomes even more important. This is because corn silage has fewer long particles than haylage, and the corn grain is more rapidly degraded in the rumen than dry shelled corn.
  • 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 percent of the dry corn or increase the amount of fiber in the ration.
  • A small amount of hay or straw can provide effective fiber to maintain rumen health with feeding low-forage diets.
  • With low-forage diets, always add a buffer to the ration at about 0.8 percent of dry matter.

Management of low-forage feeding programs must be very intense; without such intensity in management, greater risk for metabolic disease and negative animal performance occurs. Changes in forage quality or particle size can result in major problems with little notice. Watch for the following as indicators of inadequate fiber intake: highly variable feed intake and milk yield, several cows within a group with inverted milk fat and protein percentages, and increased incidence of displaced abomasum, sore feet, and loose feces.

Plan ahead by visiting with your nutritionist now so alternative diet formulations can be on hand.