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‘New Forage’ Challenges

May 25, 2013

Non-traditional forages will be finding their way into summer and fall feeding programs. Here’s help in managing them.

Linn blueBy Jim Linn

Forage inventories on many dairy farms in the Midwest are about depleted, especially hay crop forages. A high-yielding first cutting of quality alfalfa is needed for feeding this summer.

However, many producers were hit hard with winter kill in their alfalfa. They have had to scramble to figure out what to replant and then find seed for planting.

For many producers in this situation, non-traditional forages will be finding their way into the summer and fall feeding program. For those whose alfalfa did survive the winter, the cool wet spring has slowed plant growth and delayed 1st cutting.

Whichever the situation, feeding newly harvested forages or feeding a new forage species, the forage and fiber needs of the cow remain the same. Quantity, quality and effective fiber are the three things to keep in mind as forages are harvested this summer.

Forage quality is certainly important, but quantity supersedes quality this year. High quality legumes and grasses yield less per acre than good quality. As quality increases, cows eat more forage and it takes more forage in the diet to meet fiber requirements.

A 140 to 150 relative feed value (RFV) alfalfa haylage (40% Neutral Detergent Fiber--NDF) will yield more and be better at meeting the forage and fiber requirements of the cow than 170 and higher RFV alfalfa. From cutting to feeding, RFV will drop about 20 units so harvesting at about 26" in the very late bud or early flower stage should result in good yield and quality of alfalfa.

Some producers will be harvesting the newer grass varieties for forage this year. The goal for harvest in a pure grass stand is 55 to 60% NDF or a late boot stage. However, don’t be fooled into thinking cows will eat less of this high NDF forage.

Research studies on the newer grass varieties have shown DM intakes don’t decrease with higher NDF. Grass will not replace straw in diets unless the grass is very mature. For producers who have interseeded grass into a poor alfalfa stand, target the mixed alfalfa-grass crop for harvest at about 50% NDF for quality and quantity.

Small grain silages will likely be a major forage source in many dairy diets this summer. Oatlage-alfalfa as the first cut of new seeded alfalfa is likely to be forage in lactation diets and not just heifer diets by midsummer.

The traditional problem with this and most small grain silage is harvesting and ensiling them at the correct moisture. Target should be 60% moisture (40% dry matter--DM) in small grain silage for best ensiling and feedability.

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