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10 Tips for Profitable Forage Production

December 7, 2013
By: Greg Henderson, Beef Today Editorial Director
Downey Ranch 262
  
 
 

Top producers strive to continue to improve their operations.

Know forage options and animal nutrition needs. Forages vary as to adaptation, growth distribution, quality, yield, persistence and potential uses. Also, types and classes of animals have different nutritional needs. Good planting decisions require knowing forage options for your land resources and nutritional needs of the animals.

Establishment is critical. Good forage production requires an adequate stand of plants. Mistakes during establishment often have long-term consequences. Using high-quality seed of proven varieties, timely planting and attention to detail lead to establishment success.

Soil test, then lime and fertilize as needed. This practice, more than any other, affects the level and economic efficiency of forage production. Fertilizing and liming as needed help ensure good yields, improve forage quality, lengthen stand life and reduce weed problems.

Use legumes whenever possible. Legumes offer important advantages, including improved forage quality and biological nitrogen fixation, whether grown alone or with grasses. On a field-by-field basis, every producer should consider whether the introduction or enhancement of legumes would be beneficial and feasible.

Emphasize forage quality. High animal gains, milk production and reproductive efficiency require adequate nutrition. Matching forage quality to animal nutritional needs greatly increases efficiency.

Prevent or minimize pests and plant disorders. Diseases, insects, nematodes and weeds are thieves that lower yields; reduce forage quality and stand persistence; and/or steal water, nutrients, light and space from forage plants. Variety selection, cultural practices, scouting, use of pesticides and other management techniques can minimize pest problems. Knowledge of potential animal disorders caused by plants can reduce or avoid losses.

Strive to improve pasture utilization. The quantity and quality of pasture growth vary over time. Periodic adjustments in stocking rate or use of cross fencing to vary the type or amount of available forage can greatly affect animal performance and pasture species composition. Know the advantages and disadvantages of different grazing methods so you can use various approaches as needed. Matching stocking rates with forage production is also extremely important.

Minimize stored feed requirements. Stored feed is one of the most expensive aspects of animal production, so lowering these feed requirements reduces costs. Extending the grazing season with use of both cool season and warm season forages, stockpiling forage and grazing crop residues are example of ways stored feed needs can be reduced.

Reduce storage and feeding losses. Wasting hay, silage or other stored feed is very costly! On many farms, the average storage loss for round bales of hay stored outside exceeds 30%, and feeding losses can easily be higher. Minimizing feed waste with good equipment and animal management, as well as forage testing and ration formulation will enhance feeding efficiency, animal per­for­mance and producer profits.

Results require investments. In human endeavors, results are usually highly correlated with investments in terms of thought, time, effort and a certain amount of money. In particular, the best and most profitable forage programs have had the most thought put into them.

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