Nutrition Crop basics

April 5, 2009 07:00 PM
Jim Peck
*Extended comments are highlighted in blue.

Tough economic times discipline us to do all the right things to either save money or reduce the risk of having to spend more. They also force us to look at our resources to see how we can better utilize them. On many dairy farms, this means the forage system.

It really starts before the field work in the spring. In picking a variety for corn silage or for seeding a new hay crop, the best forage sets the stage for profitability by having the right feed in your bunks or silos.

Planting on time, usually early, and taking steps to ensure the maximum yield and quality of the corn or hay crop are important parts of an overall plan. Many times, dairy producers do not put a high priority on crop production and their resulting crop costs are higher than they should be. Often their efforts are compromised, resulting in less than optimal conditions to produce cheap, abundant and high-quality feeds.

Once the crop is grown, harvest at the right time and in the best way to capture the maximum yield and quality that can be converted to low-cost milk. Use the latest protocols for one-day or two-day harvest strategies for haylage, kernel processing of corn silage and lots of packing at the bunk.

These efforts will result in higher feed values that can be captured and converted to profit. Quickly and correctly covering silage to protect feed quality and divert rainwater will help preserve the maximum amount of high-quality feed.

The real value of the steps that I have outlined above is that they can easily be accomplished--without much added expense. Mostly they are management decisions that affect timing and help you make better tactical decisions, do things right and follow through.

In many cases, timely planting and harvesting requires better organizing and planning rather than more or bigger equipment. It may require better maintenance of the equipment you already have, so you can be sure it is ready to go when the time comes and does not break down partway through the season.

Harvest-timing and bunk-packing protocols usually can be improved by better planning and utilization of the equipment already on the farm. Getting geared up to reduce the interval between cutting and chopping a hay crop is a scheduling and timing challenge, not necessarily a capital purchase issue.

Improving packing may require additional weight on the packing equipment or an additional tractor available to pack at critical times. Creative problem-solving can usually come up with solutions.

Once the crop is in the bunk and stored, feed-out management is the second part of maximizing your resources. Good bunk management to minimize waste feed losses, reduce molds and maintain a safe and stable bunk face is very important. If you are not already using a bunk defacer, it is a winning investment.

Frequent and regular feed analysis and daily, or at least weekly, dry matter checks are imperative for setting up good rations and loading sheets. Monitor loading of the mixer to be sure the diets are put together and mixed accurately. The difference between the "paper diet” and the "fed diet” can be expensive, especially when it results in extra cost or missed production.

The final step is to maintain good feed inventory management. Know how much of the crop was harvested and how much is being fed, and keep track of how much feed is left. That requires an ongoing monitoring system that includes checks of all the feeds in your inventory and knowing the feed-out rates that you are planning for the balance of the storage season.

The most expensive feed you will ever buy is the forage that you ran out of. In these tough economic times, that is not a prospect that you want to look forward to.

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