Alternative forage options for cattle

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Finding reasonably priced feed and forages has been a full-time job following the struggles of winter 2013. Michigan State University Extension recommends that farms feeding cattle and cows need to take inventory of on-hand forage supplies now. By knowing what you currently have, a plan can be developed to secure the remaining feed and forages needed to carry the livestock operation through to next year’s crop.

Late spring and summer 2013 have presented several challenges from too wet to too dry and too hot to too cool leaving many farms wondering about the potential of late planted corn failing to make maturity before a killing frost. This situation creates an opportunity for crop farms to consider selling their field corn as silage now rather than rolling the dice in hopes that a perfect fall will allow the corn to mature. If they miss silage harvest and there is a frost before the corn matures, farmers may want to sell earlage rather than trying to harvest immature high moisture corn.

As we recover from one of the smallest hay inventories in recent history, farms are forced to pay higher forage prices. The 2013 hay growing season has been good for most of the Saginaw Valley with some farms being able to refill some very empty hay barns, but we are not out of woods just yet. Harvest time prices for hay continue to be paid at prices above long term trend levels on the limited supply of hay grown this summer. As hay acres continue to shrink and yields decrease over time, hay supplies will likely remain at risk for the next few years.

Livestock farms should have a plan of action to insure reasonable supplies of forages for the fall of 2013 through the winter of 2014. A good first step is to build a feed and forage need budget to estimate feed needs for your farm.

Once you have a reasonable feed needs budget estimate then you can calculate any additional needs to quickly identify and secure potential sources of forage or feed alternatives that would work for your farm’s livestock needs.

The 2013 corn silage harvest will soon begin, which will represent the harvest and storage of the farm’s major forage source for the next twelve months. Even with the reduction in corn grain market prices some farms may find the opportunity to purchase some late planted corn as a more economical source of corn silage than what they grow.

Fields of late planted corn may be something that livestock farms can purchase from crop producers who are looking to reduce risk if these fields do not mature before this year’s killing frost. In some cases farms may have planted beyond the crop insurance planting date requirements leaving these fields exposed to a huge risk. Farms considering the purchase of immature fields of corn may want to review Pricing Immature Corn, developed by Michigan State University Extension.



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