Foraging Partnerships

02:41AM May 05, 2014
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Pete Wiersma

Pete Wiersma
Buhl, Idaho

In addition to helping manage 1,500 cows on his family’s two dairies in Idaho’s Magic Valley, Wiersma serves on the boards of United Dairymen of Idaho and Independent Milk Producers.

When it comes to forages for our dairy, we depend on the relationships we have developed over the years with our neighboring farmers. We have never grown our own feed, so keeping those relationships beneficial to both parties is of prime importance to us.

We have worked with the same farmer each year for many years to fulfill our corn silage requirements. He lines up the acres necessary to get us the tonnage we need, whether from his own farm or from others in our area. Since he also does the harvesting, he’s more than happy to round up those acres for us as it adds to his bottom line.

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Video from Mark Rodgers

At harvest, our goal is to have a moisture level in the range of 62% to 70% going into the pit. If it comes in at a higher level, we’ll stop chopping that particular field and move to one that’s a little drier. On the flip side, if the silage is coming in drier, we sometimes negotiate the price a little lower since it’s more difficult to pack dry silage and quality could suffer. We prefer a particle length of ¾" to 7/8", and a kernel processor is used to fracture the kernels. Once in the pit, we cover it with a double layer of plastic. When we start feeding it, samples are taken weekly, and ration adjustments are made based on the results.

It’s a similar situation with our alfalfa needs. There are a couple of growers in our area that sell us all their hay for one price, regardless of the relative feed value of each individual cutting.

We agree on the price at the beginning of the season, and it’s usually about midway between what the prime alfalfa price is estimated to be and what the feeder hay price looks like it will be. These two growers provide us with about two thirds of our total needs, so we look to a hay broker to find us the rest. We’ll also use a broker to find hay of specific quality to round out our inventory.

A feed we use specifically for the dry cows and heifers is something we call "cannery silage." There is a large pea- and corn-canning facility nearby which sells the byproduct of their sweet corn canning run to local dairies and cattle feeders.

Sweet corn for canning is harvested much earlier than silage corn and has a much higher moisture level – about 80%. We pile it and pack it and cover it with plastic, then incorporate it into our dry cow and heifer rations over the course of the year. This makes an inexpensive but palatable silage that helps us trim a few extra cents off our feed bill.

Wiersma’s recent prices

$23.47 (3.65 bf, 3.21 prt)

Cull cows

Springing heifers


Ground corn

Corn distillers