Forages Are the Foundation

May 11, 2011 12:35 AM

CarlsonsCarlson Dairy, LLP

(Curtney & Louise Carlson, Chad & Kindra Carlson, Carl & Kellie Carlson)

Willmar, Minn.
The Carlsons milk 950 cows on a 120-year-old family farm.


*Extended comments are highlighted in blue.

Our forage program is the foundation of our pursuit of top milk production and optimum cow health here at Carlson Dairy. Sixty percent of our cows’ diets is forage, so it’s imperative that we put up quality forages on our farm.

Access to adequate acres for forage production is an advantage for many Minnesota dairy producers. Our farm has benefited from this and is able to produce 70% of our haylage needs and 90% of our corn silage from the acres we own.

Our haylage target is 175 relative feed value and 24% protein. In our attempt to optimize both yield and feed quality, our alfalfa is harvested at late bud stage. We try to stick to a 30-day cutting interval, but of course Mother Nature can sometimes overrule that schedule. For corn silage, we focus on yield and digestibility and choose silage-specific corn in the 105-day range.

Crop-N-Rich liquid inoculant is applied at the chopper during harvest for both our haylage and corn silage. In our minds, this is cheap insurance for proper fermentation and has led to increased feed stability, with less dry matter loss on the pile face and less heating in the feedbunk.

Proper harvesting is only one part of the equation in our forage production system. Storage and packing are critical as well. Our feed is piled on an asphalt pad. We shoot for pile densities of 20 lb. of dry matter per cubic foot for haylage and 17 lb. for corn silage. We sometimes slow down the chopper to ensure adequate time is spent packing the pile as the forages are harvested. This equates to better fermentation, less dry matter loss and greater returns.

Each pile is double-covered with a clear oxygen barrier film and 6-mil white plastic, then covered with tires. We utilize a Royer facer to keep the pile faces in peak condition.

We carefully monitor the amount of each feed ingredient going into the mixer. Extra ingredient means extra feed expense. This excess, even if very small on a daily basis, can add up to big dollar amounts over time. We use Digi-Star’s TMR Tracker program to increase our feed ingredient accuracy and to track dry matter intakes.

Our goal is to get the most milk, fat and protein possible from our cows. We aren’t afraid to push our cows, and our nutritionist helps us find a healthy and economical balance in doing this.

Our nutritionist is a key participant in our quarterly farm team meetings and is instrumental in helping us develop our annual budgets and cash-flow estimates. We visit by phone two to three times each week, with on-farm visits every other week.

Truth be told, one of our least favorite and most challenging jobs on the farm is pricing feed. We’ve looked for outside help with managing our feed commodity booking and pricing.

For the past several years, we’ve worked with a milk and feed marketing adviser. While the advisory fee is an added feed expense, it has more than paid for itself. It’s provided the consistency and discipline we need to round out our feeding program.

Carlsons' March Prices  
Milk (3.79% bf, 3.10% prt) $18.04/cwt.
Cull cows $68/cwt.
Springing heifers $1,600/head
Alfalfa hay (milk cow) $144/ton
(160 RFV)
Dry beet pulp $110/ton
Ground dry corn $252/ton
Canola $224/ton


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Spell Check

5/11/2011 12:54 AM

  Good article More articles like this would be helpful.


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