Recent weeks have included evaluation and discussion over winter-killed alfalfa fields. Many fields have already been plowed or interseeded for this year's immediate forage needs, but there may be more decisions to be made after first crop hay harvest. Here are some additional options for your consideration.
1. Re-evaluate alfalfa strands
Does the stand warrant leaving the rest of the season or does it need to be replaced? Work with crop consultants to evaluate the potential in each field. Remember, in a three cut system, first cutting will typically be about 40% of the annual yield. Does your first cutting at that rate look adequate? If not, consider alternative forages.
2. Evaluate forage inventory
Current forage inventory along with anticipated summer and fall yields are important in determining the feeding and cropping options. Work with your nutritionist to determine the following:
- How many days alfalfa inventory are remaining?
- How many days of corn silage inventory are remaining?
- Estimate potential forage yields this growing season based on stand assessment and acres available.
3. Evaluate feeding options
Here are some feeding options to consider if forage inventories are anticipated to be short.
- Purchase forage. Carefully look at budgets that will probably be affected by higher forage costs. Milk prices look decent for the season, but it is the income over feed cost that counts.
- Increase corn silage. If adequate corn silage inventory is available, the best option is likely to increase corn silage feeding. Cows can remain healthy and perform well on very high corn silage diets.
- Have your nutritionist consider rations using forage extending by-product feeds. Watch costs carefully. Options include:
- Corn gluten feed
- Wheat midds
- Soybean hulls
- Brewers grains
- Distillers grains
- Beet pulp
- Sweet corn silage
4. Evaluate animal options
Consider reducing your animal inventory. These decisions should be made with input from your management team because reducing animal numbers may compromise future profitability. Take into account milk futures prices and feed futures prices.
- Evaluate cow inventory. Are you overcrowded or are there unprofitable cows that should be culled? Evaluate the decision to cull productive cows carefully. Usually a productive cow in every stall is better than leaving a stall empty, even if it means purchasing high priced feed.
- Evaluate heifer inventory. Are all heifers needed as replacements? Consider having some or all heifers custom raised. An extreme option would be to cull all replacements and purchase springing heifers as needed. Do not make this drastic decision without consulting with your veterinarian and considering genetic and biosecurity risks.