Nutrition Quality forage comes first

October 14, 2009 07:00 PM
Jim Peck
* Extended comments are highlighted in blue.

On a recent visit to a 300-cow dairy farm, I was taken aback when the producer said that as tough as it is, he was "cash flowing it.”

His first-cut alfalfa haylage was of such good quality that he saved more than $1,000 a month on his feed bill, and his production held up during the summer months. That made the difference between black ink and red.

As we talked, it became apparent that his good fortune was no accident. It was due to a number of management decisions and operational initiatives. When they were all added up, they made the difference.

The rest of the story is that it was a series of practices. Individually, each one of them was a good idea that we would recognize as something that should be done. Putting them all together is what really pays the good dividends.

It starts in crop management with the decision to plant good varieties capable of producing high-quality forages. Good fertility management allows the soils to support high yields of an aggressively harvested crop.

Following a 30- to 35-day harvesting schedule for alfalfa will produce high-protein, highly digestible NDF feed. A huge commitment to agronomy, fertility, and cropping practices is required to sustain that level of production. You must also have field operations ready to roll when it is harvest time.

Once you get it to the bunk, it has to be well packed, covered and properly fermented. An investment in a good fermentation package adds value to high-quality forages.

Cut and store enough haylage to assure a quick fill and have a batch of feed to manage in the overall feeding program. Putting feeds in a layer at a time loses the advantage of having good feed among the average stuff.

Feed testing is essential in a quality forage management system. Routinely testing dry matter as it goes in helps to maintain the right moisture content for proper fermentation and minimizes losses.

Collect the first round of forage analysis to take advantage of your high-quality feeds. Waiting to test until feed-out is too late to react to the quality of your stored feeds. The sampling and analysis at feedout should be thought of as a quality check to confirm what you already know and have planned into your rations.

Many times I have seen dairy farms that wait until they get into the feed to get a "good” sample, only to lose two to three weeks of reaction time in adjusting the diets.

Now is the time to sharpen up the ration balancing. If you know the forage quality, you can take the guesswork and expensive "safety factor” out of the diet. We have enough collective knowledge about feeding high-quality forages to narrow the range of protein and energy in most diets and create substantial savings in feed cost.

It is time to target the diets to the groups. One mix will not work well; it is simply too expensive to feed high-performance diets to the lower-end groups.

Your feed advisers should be challenged to help you close the gap in taking advantage of your high-quality feeds. They need to be part of the team that starts with decisions to make something happen in the field and ends in putting the right stuff in front of the cows at the bunk.

As my client testified, putting it all together can make the difference in financial success.

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