By Dr. James Coomer, Ph.D., P.A.S
Most 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?
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.).
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.
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:
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