A late spring and continued wet weather patterns are presenting many challenges for livestock producers, as well as farmers who raise forages for sale.
"High-quality forage is important to dairy producers, especially given the many high costs they face, including feed and fuel," says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist. "But this year, despite diligent planning and long hours of work, the hay field may not yield the quality of hay to which you are accustomed."
Here are some ways he suggests dairy producers can deal with less-than-ideal forage:
* Feed lower amounts of later-maturity forage and increase the amount of corn silage fed when possible. You still have time to divert acreage toward corn silage to increase the tonnage to place in storage. Although not incorporated into ration-balancing programs, research and dairy farmers' experience show that cows, especially early lactation cows (the money makers), will milk better when lower-quality forages are removed from the diet. The forage will pass out of the rumen quicker and is more digestible, and, as a result, cows consume more dry matter and make more milk.
* Shop around for high-quality alfalfa hay. The impact of the cost of a ton of alfalfa hay on the total feed cost per cow still makes high-quality hay a good buy in many situations. Work with your nutritionist.
* Purchase high-quality alfalfa hay (relative feed value greater than 180) if at a reasonable price. What is reasonable? A place to start is the relative feeding value of alfalfa hay when compared with the price of corn grain and soybean meal. Caution: This does not set the price but gives you a relative price comparison. In other words, if you can buy it and get it delivered to the yard at this price or lower, consider it. Various feed evaluation programs are available on the Internet. FEEDVAL is a good place to start. Check out North Carolina State University's site at http://www.ag- econ.ncsu.edu/faculty/benson/FEEDVAL2004.xls and the University of Wisconsin's site at http://www.uwex.edu/ces/dairynutrition/documents/FEEDVALComparative.xls.
* Consider planting alternative annual crops for heifers and dry cows to spare higher-quality forage for the milking herd. Forage sorghum can be planted later in the growing season and result in good yields for silage or grazing. Sorghum should be harvested after it reaches at least 18 inches in height and before it heads out. Brown midrib varieties of sorghum have lower lignin contents and are more digestible than regular varieties, and can be fed to high-performance cattle, such as lactating dairy cows.