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We’ve Learned from our Forage Mistakes

May 7, 2013
 
 

**Extended comments are highlighted in blue.


Nick Vande Weerd

Nick Vande Weerd
Brookings, S.D.

The Vande Weerd family is majority owner and manager of Pleasant Dutch Dairy, which milks 1,400 Holsteins.

 

 


To maximize forage quality, we start with high-quality forage, then harvest and store it correctly. We have made mistakes such as harvesting at the wrong moisture and storing incorrectly, which turned quality forage into poor forage.

Not only do we have a goal of delivering high-quality forage to our cows, but we also want to maximize income over feed costs. When we evaluate our rations and want to make a ration change to our main lactating herd, we try to only change one or two pens at first to see how the cows respond.

There are times when harvesting high-quality forages correctly can be challenging. We experimented with harvesting balage two years ago. We used a square baler that processed the alfalfa with knives. The alfalfa was cut down to 4" to 6". We then wrapped the bales and let them ferment for a month. The bales broke up very well since they were pre-processed, but the bales on the high side of moisture did not turn out well.

Due to an imminent rainstorm, we baled balage as high as 72% moisture. We discovered that it would have been better to let it rain on the alfalfa. The balage we did above 68% moisture didn’t turn out. Harvesting alfalfa at 65% to 68% was variable, meaning some created great feed and some did not. We found the best, most consistent balage was made from alfalfa that ranged between 45% to 60% moisture.

Harvesting forages at the correct moisture helps deliver quality forage to the cows, but if it was not stored correctly, it will not make a difference how it was harvested. We have had great success with reducing mold and spoilage by using oxygen barrier film in addition to regular
6 ml plastic when covering our silage piles.

In most circumstances, the oxygen barrier film has reduced spoilage on the top of silage piles to the point that it has been undetectable to the naked eye. The maximum amount I have ever seen is 3" when proper coverage immediately after harvesting has been completed -- and that isn’t very common.

Besides delivering high-quality forage, we are also focused on maximizing our income over feed costs margins. When we want to introduce a new ration to our lactating cows, we first experiment with a couple of pens to see how they respond.

Depending on how they respond, we either introduce the new ration to the rest of the lactating pens or continue with the current ration. We have found that sometimes a ration’s performance on paper doesn’t always translate to reality at the feed bunk. We would rather not switch the entire herd to a new ration that doesn’t perform the way we think it should.

In the end, in order to deliver high-quality forages to your cows, you will need to start with high-quality forages, then harvest and store them correctly. Also, sometimes cows forget to read the textbook and don’t produce on a given ration like they are supposed to. So, we are cautious when switching to a new ration, feeding it to a small test group first and observing the results.

In the end, in order to deliver high-quality forages to your cows, you will need to start with high quality forages. In addition, they must be harvested and stored correctly. Also, sometimes cows forget to read the textbook and don’t produce on a given ration like they are supposed to. So, we are cautions when switching to a new ration.

Vande Weerd’s most recent prices

Milk
$19.64 (3.8 bf, 3.05 prt)

Cull cows    
$70-$80/cwt.

Springing heifers
$1,300-$1,700/head

Alfalfa hay (milk cow)
$280-$350/ton

Cottonseed
$345/ton

Ground corn
$6.70/bu.

Soybean meal
$390/ton

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