Dollars and Sense: A Forage Plan for Florida’s Tough Environment

May 6, 2015 02:47 AM
Dollars and Sense: A Forage Plan for Florida’s Tough Environment


Gerald Fieser
Deland, Fla.

The Fiesers milk 600 cows and graze and hay 500 acres in east-central Florida.


Growing quality forages in Florida is an ongoing challenge. We can grow forage year-round, and grow a lot of it, but producing and harvesting high-quality forage that high-producing cows need is often difficult in our environment.

Farms in Florida with well-drained ground and irrigation can produce good corn silage, but with our soil type, we are limited to grasses. In the summer, our flatwood soils can turn to mud without a good grass sod cover. Our summer forages consist of mostly Bermuda grass, crabgrass and Bahia. We have found the crabgrass to be higher in quality but lower in tonnage. Both are superior to Bahia.

Our highest quality forage is produced in the winter, consisting of ryegrass over-seeded in our pastures and spray fields. Unfortunately, ryegrass has a detrimental effect on the Bermuda grass and has diminished the stands. We try to grow enough ryegrass for our high milk, early-lactation ration and use the summer forages for the lower milk, later-lactation ration. While our cows are housed on pasture, most of their nutrient requirements come from a TMR.

We have found that the key to high-quality grass forage is harvesting often. We like to mimic what a cow would harvest if grazing. Forage regrowth older than eight weeks is undesirable.

We plan to harvest every four weeks, weather permitting. The grasses are harvested at 50%-60%DM as baleage with a M. buchneri inoculant added when baled.

fieser_priceThis year, with lower grain and feed by-product prices, we are only feeding 6-9 lb. DM of forage. Sorting can become an issue with higher percentages of grass forage.

Using a vertical mixer and TMR Tracker software, the baleage is mixed with wet brewer’s grains, citrus pulp, cottonseed, cottonseed hulls, canola, corn gluten, ground corn and a custom mineral package designed by our nutritionist.

With the lower forage level, we believe it is important to feed ingredients with higher fiber levels. Three different mineral premixes are specifically formulated, depending on the time of year, ingredients used and stage of lactation.

High producers and early-lactation cows have access to feed at all times in their shade barns. Lower producing,  later-lactation cows have access to feed only after exiting the parlor.

We try to keep things simple and consistent.

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