Keys to Forage Profitability

November 29, 2010 04:58 AM

By Garry Lacefield and Don Ball

Forage production is a broad topic. After all, there are numerous forage crops that can be grown in most any given geographical area, the soils and sites available for forage production vary greatly, various species and classes of livestock are produced on different farms and producers have widely differing resources and objectives. As a result, no two forage and/or livestock operations are exactly alike, and there is no single “correct” forage program.

The keys to a profitable forage program that follow are basic concepts that are backed up by both science and farmer experience. They have been given careful consideration and put into practice by successful producers in the U.S. and countries around the world.

¦ Know forage options and animal nutritional needs. Forages vary as to adaptation, growth distribution, quality, yield, persistence and potential uses. Also, various types and classes of animals have different nutritional needs. Good planting decisions require knowing forage options for the land resources and the nutritional needs of the animals.

¦ Establishment is critical. Good forage production requires an adequate stand of plants. Use of highquality seed of proven varieties, timely planting and attention to detail lead to establishment success.

¦ Soil test, then lime and fertilize as needed. This practice, more than any other, affects the level and economic efficiency of forage production. Fertilizing and liming help ensure good yields, improve forage quality, lengthen stand life and reduce weed problems.

¦ Use legumes whenever feasible. Legumes, whether grown alone or in combination with grasses, offer improved forage quality, often an extended growing season and/or increased forage yield and biological nitrogen fixation. Producers should regularly consider on a field-by-field basis whether the introduction or enhancement of legumes would be benefi cial and feasible. Once legumes have been established, proper management optimizes benefits.

¦ Emphasize forage quality. High animal gains, milk production and reproductive effi ciency require adequate nutrition. Producing high-quality forage requires knowing the factors that affect forage quality and managing accordingly. Matching forage quality to animal nutritional needs greatly increases effi ciency.

¦ Prevent or minimize pests and diseases. Insects, nematodes, diseases and weeds are thieves that lower yields, reduce forage quality and stand persistence, and steal water, nutrients, light and space from forage plants. Variety selection, cultural practices, scouting, use of pesticides and other management techniques can minimize pest problems. Knowledge of potential animal disorders caused by plants can reduce or avoid losses.

¦ Strive to improve pasture utilization. The quantity and quality of pasture growth vary over time. Periodic adjustments in stocking rate or use of cross-fencing to alter the type and/or amount of available forage can greatly affect animal performance and pasture species composition. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of different grazing methods allows you to use various approaches as needed to reach your objectives. Matching stocking rates with forage production is extremely important.

¦ Minimize stored feed requirements. Stored feed is one of the most expensive aspects of animal production, so lowering storage requirements reduces costs. Extend the grazing season with use of both cool season and warm season forages, use annuals and perennial forages in a complementary fashion, stockpile forage and graze crop residue to help reduce stored feed needs.

¦ Reduce storage and feeding losses.Wasting hay, silage, grain or other stored feed is costly! On many farms, the average storage loss for round bales of hay stored outside exceeds 30%, and feeding losses can easily be as high or even higher in some climates. Minimizing waste with good management, forage testing and ration formulation enhances feeding efficiency, animal performance and profits.

¦ Results require investment. In human endeavors, positive results are usually highly correlated with investments of thought, time, effort and a certain amount of money. In particular, the best and most profitable forage programs have the most thought put into them. Top producers strive to continue to improve their operations.

Learn more from Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky Extension Forage Specialist, and Don Ball, Auburn University Extension Agronomist at the BEEF TODAY Forum: Keys to Forage Profitability during the Ag Connect Expo, Atlanta, Ga. on Saturday, Jan. 8. Find more information here.

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