Work with agronomists to improve feed quality

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Steve Woodford, dairy nutritionist from Sheboygan Falls, Wis. He is affiliated with Nutrition Professionals Inc.

We have made great progress over the last decade in our ability to predict forage quality.

From corn silage dry-down days to PEAQ sticks to predict when to harvest alfalfa, we are doing a better job of predicting when the crop should be harvested for optimal nutritional value.

But old rules-of-thumb still exist. Two that I always hear each year are "No, I have not cut alfalfa yet as I don't see buds," and the other is "No, I have not chopped corn silage yet, it looks too green." In reality, these don't always work with modern-day genetics.

According to data on the Dairyland Labs Web site, the average corn silage dry matter in their samples is 37 percent, which is too dry. Corn silage should be harvested around 33 to 35 percent dry matter if it is going into a bunker silo.

As a nutritionist, it's important to work with agronomists in planning the crop and seeing that it is harvested in a timely manner.

Each spring, I try to look back on the previous year's crop, emphasizing to the producer and crop consultants what might have been done differently — in terms of harvest timing — to provide for a better feed analysis. When I know the harvest was delayed for various reasons, I point out the consequences it had on feed quality.

Maybe my memory is bad, but it seems that in Wisconsin our weather windows for getting forage made and harvested in June and July are getting smaller.

By looking at last year's forage data, I try to reaffirm the point that if alfalfa harvest is about a week away or less by PEAQ numbers, you need to be ready when a favorable weather window exists.

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