7 Ways to Extend Forages during California's Drought

05:53PM Jul 09, 2014
Jersey cows feeding at California dairy 5 2014
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Try these tips to get through this year’s short water supplies and high-priced feeds.

As California’s extended drought limits both water and feed supplies for the state’s dairies, producers must be open to new feeds as well as new feeding practices and strategies.

That’s the advice of Dr. Peter Robinson, dairy nutritionist with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), who offered several ways for dairy producers to extend their forage supplies and avoid the need to purchase more. Robinson spoke yesterday in Modesto, Calif., at a drought assistance workshop presented by the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program.

To prevent losses of forage and other feeds they have already purchased, Robinson suggested:

1. Go all out to reduce silage shrink.

  • Use lactic acid additives in cereal and alfalfa silage, but not in corn silage.

  • Double-cover silage piles using inner thin plastic. "This has a very substantial, positive effect on reducing shrink," he said.

  • Cover piles within 12 hours of harvest. For large piles, cover as you go.

  • For feeds bought but not fed, use covers and bays. Only remove as much silage as needed, and have the feeders clean up at the end of the day.

2. Find new, often overlooked and probably local feeds.

  • "Corn and wheat silages are not magic," said Robinson. "You can reduce ingredient minimums in diet formulations."
  • Consider seasonal feeds such as vegetable and fruit wastes. Those can include strawberries, peaches, melons, citrus and green beans. Carefully examine bulk buys in season. "Put the word out that you are interested in oddball stuff," he said. Ensile them with lower quality forages such as straws. That can work well in "sausage" bags.
  • Consider rice straw. UCCE research has resulted in good success with double-chop rice straw in a heifer TMR, Robinson said.
3. Feed more grain. Corn at around $225 per ton puts its price well below other types of feed, such as cottonseed, now at $545 per ton, and alfalfa hay, at $350 per ton and higher. Soybean meal rose to $568 per ton late last month, and fell to $548 this week, but that’s still higher than a year ago. Use more corn grain in diets, Robinson said, but be aware of impacts of high starch consumption on cows.
4. Feed for maximum animal feed efficiency. Consider planting lower-lignin corn varieties. They offer higher digestibility but generally lower yields, which means less irrigation water is needed per unit of dry-matter energy harvested.
  • Use dNDF values to evaluate silage quality. This allows strategic use of silages.
5. Increase feed efficiency with feed additives.
  • With yeasts and yeast culture, expect about 2 lb. per day of milk with no fat/protein percentage change. Also expect dry-matter intake to be flat or decline up to 1 lb. per day, Robinson added. These perform best in high-group TMRs.
  • Consider using Monensin. "This reduces intake while maintaining milk in lower forage diets," Robinson said. "Improved efficiency is the only official claim. But the effects dissipate with time, so restrict this to a high TMR."

  • Mold binders can reduce the negative effects of mycotoxins on feed efficiency.

  • Rumen inert fats reduce dry-matter intake. "You can expect milk production, and/or milk fat, increases," he said. "But this is a very expensive energy source."
6. Increase feed efficiency with animal management.
  • Cull at the end of lactation. "Make the culling decision because these cows are about to cost you about 1,200 lb. of forage dry matter in the next 60 days," Robinson said.
  • Use DHIA records to cull in early lactation. Low-milk producers are inefficient, and cows with low-fat tests will be gaining weight.
  • Increase stocking density in corrals. "Consider moving up your stocking density to 110%+," he advised. "This will reduce dry-matter intake more than milk yield, so apply this only in corrals where cows have medium to high body-count scores."


7. Take a closer look at your feeding systems.

  • Remove spoiled silage at uncovering. "That will reduce mycotoxin levels which reduce feed efficiency," said Robinson. "Feed spoiled silage at low levels to heifers."
  • Limit feed refusals to 1%. This creates limit-feeding conditions and increased feed efficiency.
  • Use a two-lactation TMR. Your nutrient composition will be similar and it allows strategic use of feed additives.
"There’s only so much that can be done to extend forage supplies before you need to buy more, but there are general options," Robinson concluded.
One last suggestion he offered: "Hope for a wet winter of 2014-15."