wheat field

Are You Short on Forages?

Avoiding Forage Disasters

By Dr. James Coomer, Ph.D., P.A.S

short on foragesMost of the United States dealt with some type of forage disaster in 2019 and some in the eastern US and the western US have dealt with drought this year.  The drought this year has negatively affected alfalfa yields and may have negatively affected corn silage yields in the areas hit with the dry weather.  If you find yourself short on forages this Fall, now is the time to start dealing with the issue and avoid a crisis over Winter or in the Spring.  What should you do?

  • Determine current forage inventory (hay, haylage, corn silage, other).
  • Compare the current inventory to the current usage rate of each forage to determine how long it will last at current usage rates.
  • Determine if current usage rates are sustainable to last to the next harvest of each crop.
  • If adjustments to usage rates are needed, evaluate what options you have to extend the supply of your current forages.

If you are in the situation of being short on one or more of your forages, then adjustments are going to be required.  Let’s take a look at some of those options starting with only being short on one forage (i.e. haylage) but having plenty of other forages.  This is an easy fix, just adjust the feeding rates of the forages that you have to match the supplies of the forages.  You will likely have to adjust your concentrate feeding to balance the diet (protein, energy, mineral, etc.).

Extending Forage Inventories

What if you are short on one or more forages without any excesses of other forages?  Then you are going to need to extend your forage inventories.  There are several ways to accomplish this. One way is to purchase some local forages.  There may be some local farmers that have some forage inventory they would be willing to sell.  Wet forages such as haylage and corn silage would need to be sourced fairly close by due to the cost of transporting water (50-70% moisture) as well as the spoilage issues that will start taking place as soon as the silage gets exposed to air.  Individually wrapped balage can be more easily sourced from a farther distance with minimal spoilage issues if handled properly.

Another option could be to plant some Fall forage/Winter forage crops for grazing or early spring harvest.  Small grains such as wheat, oats, rye, triticale are possibilities.   This may be a good option if corn harvest is early this year due to drought or earlier planting this year.  With early planting and good growing conditions, and a late frost, you could possibly get a fall harvest from one of these small grains.  Another alternative forage crop could be crop residue such as corn stalks or small grain straw.  These crop residues could be used as forages for heifers or dry cows that have a lower energy requirement.  They could also be used in very limited amounts in milk cow diets if needed.  If you have access to wet distiller’s grains it is possible to ferment corn stalks with wet distillers (31%:69%) and use this as a very good heifer feed.  Research at South Dakota State University indicated they could achieve over 2 lb/day gain on heifers fed this corn stalk:wet distiller’s grains fermented mixture.

More Options

Purchasing forages may be an option this year.  Most of the central Midwest has had a fairly good year moisture wise and therefore have produced ample supplies of both hay and corn silage.  Dry hay supply is not excessive and demand (thus price) may be high due to both eastern and western states having a low moisture year for much of the crop season.  Start looking sooner rather than waiting until spring and trying to find hay.

A final option for extending forages is to look at feeding some by-products that can partially replace forages in a dairy diet.  The following are some of the by-products that can be used to extend forage supplies:

  • Wet brewer’s grains can be an excellent forage extender to replace haylage if you live within about 100 miles of a brewery. Most brewer’s grains are about 80% moisture, so you cannot afford to haul it very far.  Many of the companies that distribute brewer’s grains have the ability to deliver the grains into a silage bag from a truck which allows the product to have a longer usage life on the farm.  The down side of brewer’s grains is the variability of supply/availability.
  • Whole fuzzy cottonseed is a very good feedstuff for extending forage supplies. It provides a good mix of fiber, protein and energy (from fat).  The fuzz on the cottonseed also helps it act more like a forage and maintain cud chewing in the cows.  Storage may be a challenge for some people, since cottonseed cannot be stored in a bin, thus will require flat storage.  Cottonseed also cannot be included in a grain mix at high levels if the grain mix must be run through an auger (max of about 10%).
  • Cottonseed hulls are another good option for forage extending. It provides a good fiber source with some effectiveness.  However, it does not supply the protein and energy that whole cottonseed supplies.  It can also be a handling challenge similar to the whole cottonseed.
  • There are some dry commodities that can help with a short forage supply situation. They can be included in a grain mix and allow you to feed a lower forage diet.  Some of these are Soy hulls, corn gluten feed, malt sprout pellets, oat hulls, spelt hulls, oat mill feed, citrus pulp, beet pulp.
  • There are some other options that may be available in localized areas, such as corn cannery waste (if you live near a sweet corn cannery), almond hulls on the west coast, grape or apple pomace.

The use of Silo King forage treatment on your forage will help you with forage inventories by reducing storage shrink and improving digestibility for better utilization.  The use of Agri King feed enzyme technology such as Ru-Mend and Zy-Mend will also help improve digestion and utilization of the forages you have and any high fiber by-products you may need to feed.  If you have questions or want help figuring out what option is best for you, please contact your trusted Agri-King nutrition consultant. AK