Nutrition: Stretch feed supplies

April 3, 2013 12:26 PM
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Many dairy farms are finding themselves in a tight feed situation: low inventories due to last year’s drought and higher prices.

Many are looking for ways to stretch supplies or to find ways to bridge the feed inventory gaps. The usual ration adjustments to stretch forages are often expensive.

Anticipating tight supplies, many farmers planted winter grains such as wheat, triticale and rye last fall for feed this spring.

Specialized forage varieties of wheat and triticale can be harvested early in the spring for silage and then farmers can follow with a double crop of corn silage.

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Timing is critical. For the most part, the harvest window is the "boot" stage of growth. This is when the grain head is just starting to emerge. Cutting too early reduces yields and may cause an unproductive regrowth. Harvesting too late results in greatly reduced feed quality. The window is usually very short.

Oats or spring barley can also be used as a forage if planted early and harvested in the boot stage.

If corn silage is tight, moving up maturity dates of some of the silage crop may be the answer. Plant early-maturity silage corn on part of your acreage, harvest as soon as it is mature enough, and ferment it in a separate location for a month’s worth of extra feed.

This requires serious crop planning early in the season:

  • Schedule some early ground;
  • Get the right seed;
  • Be ready to plant as soon as conditions are right;
  • Be ready to harvest as soon as it is ready;
  • Have a location for the harvested feed.

Jim Peck is an independent nutrition consultant based in Newark, N.Y.  You can contact him at

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