Feeding high levels of forage requires a positive mindset of the entire farm team.
By Jim Peck
The dairy cow as a ruminant has a huge capacity to convert large amounts of forages to high quality protein and energy as people food. The benefits to the dairymen are more basic.
The production of higher amounts of milk components, improved farm incomes, lower purchased feed cost, better rumen health, fewer feet problems, lower veterinary bills, increased cow longevity, and better reproductive performance are some of the benefits.
In regions where dairy farms can produce abundant amounts of forages, there is an economic advantage to align the resources of cropping programs, recycling manure nutrients and the ability to produce lots of quality forages to meet the quality and quantity of feeds needed for high forage diets. It is an opportunity to leverage multiple aspects of dairy farming for a powerful economic model.
How much forage can a cow eat? Dairy farmers who focus on high forage diets and high production regularly feed diets as high as 70% forages. More importantly, it calculates out to be in the range of .9 to 1.1% of body weight as neutral detergent fiber (NDF) intake from forages. Simply stated, in terms of amounts and quality, more is better.
It requires the coordination of feed professionals that understand how the high performance dairy cow functions to utilize large amounts of high quality forages. It also requires a dairy farm management system that produces and has available an abundant supply of consistently high quality forages, mostly corn silage and hay crops. However, all this does not just happen overnight.
Just to make the decision to feed more forages usually does not work very well. It takes a deliberate plan by the farm’s management to focus on a system that emphasizes the production, harvesting, storage, ration programing and feeding of an abundant and consistent supply of quality forages to work.
A lot of things need to work together.
• It starts in the field with crop programs and rotations that produce enough high quality hay crop forages and the right varieties of corn silage to have year round supplies of consistent quality to meet the herd’s needs.
• There has to be enough harvest capacity to harvest at the peak of quality--even under some adverse harvesting conditions. Mower, merger, and chopper capacity; hauling capacity; bunk packing capacity need to match the size of the crop and be ready to roll when conditions are right. Good unloading and packing management at the bunk is needed to preserve a high quality crop and segregate any material that is not up to high standards.
• Good inventory management should be in place to track individual lots of feeds. Keeping track of the locations and amounts of feeds is important for the best feeds and feeds of lesser quality. It allows for the allocation of feeds to the appropriate groups of cattle. High forage diets also apply to groups that can utilize forages of lower quality.