Forages continue to the backbone of most dairy rations. But, the 2015 growing year was not favorable
with drought in the western states, wet spring and early summer phase in the Midwest and Eastern region, and a dry late summer and fall in the Midwest. Forage quantity and quality can be variable and must be considered when building rations in 2016.
Facts and Figures
Data from Dr. Mike Rankin provide useful guidelines and considerations when looking ahead to 2016.
- Compared to 2014, 2015 resulted in a decline of 108,000 acres of alfalfa with a drop of 55,000 acres in California.
- Hay stocks in 2015 are estimated at 240 million tons and higher than 2014.
- Hay prices are lower in 2015 at $159 a ton compared to 2014 at $207 a ton. Premium quality hay in October reports varied from $160 to $250 a ton. An Illinois dairy farmer reporting $300 a ton delivered for western hay.
- Exports of hay are down $200,000 while China has increased purchases.
- Cottonseed yields are down 20 percent with higher crush levels. Expect prices for 2016 to be $30 a ton higher than 2015.
Meeting the Challenge
OPPORTUNITY 1: Monitoring forage quality will be critical adjusting for changes. Multiple testing (bi-weekly to monthly) may be needed if forage quality is variable on your farm. Select forage quality indexes will be important (adjust these based on your region, ratio of legume to grass content, and biases).
- For legume forages, my guidelines are neutral detergent fiber digestibility—30 hours (NDFD) over 45 percent (most important), relative forage quality (RFQ) index over 150 for high producing
- cows (2nd in importance), and crude protein over 20 percent (3rd in importance).
- For grass forages, my guidelines are NDFD—30 hours over 50%, RFQ over 130, and crude protein over 18 percent
- For corn silage, my guidelines are NDFD—30 hours over 55% and starch percent over 30%.
FIGURE 1 (see below) provides the range of NDFD—30 hours from the 2014 crop year. Where do your forages fit on the curve? NDFD is a key nutrient as it reflects the energy content available from plant cell wall (40 to 60 percent of the forage dry matter) and impacts total ration dry matter intake.
If NDFD in your forages are low, you will need to reduce the level of dry matter included from that forage source and/or substitute another feed ingredient for the low NDFD forage in the ration.
Check rumen starch availability from corn silage using the seven-hour degradation rates. If the percentage is low due to moisture content of the corn silage, processing, or fermentation, you may need
to add dry corn or barley as an energy source for the rumen bacteria.
FIGURE 1: Forage Sample Digestibility Ranges
Nearly 180,000 samples of various forages show the range of neutral detergent fiber digestibility.
OPPORTUNITY 2: Segregate forage quality and decide which dairy animals get each forage quality. For example, forages below 130 RFQ should be targeted for heifers over 12 months of age, far off dry cows, and/or low production groups. Be sure when low-quality forages are included in the ration, animal nutrient requirement are met. Guard against cheating older heifers, slowing their group and delaying their entry into the milking herd.
OPPORTUNITY 3: Roasted, extruded, or raw soybeans can be another source of added energy and oil if fuzzy cottonseed is too expensive in your region. A large U.S. soybean crop has lowered the price for soybean seed and/or maybe raised on the dairy farm reducing purchased protein supplement. Guidelines for soybean seed inclusion in lactating cow rations include:
• 4 to 6 pounds for roasted soybean with a protein dispersion index or PDI of 10 to 15 which reflects optimal heating. Roasted soybeans should be cracked in ¼ to 1/8 pieces.
• Under 3 pounds of extruded soybean seed as oil is pressed out of the seed leading to exposed oil in the
• Under 3 pounds of raw soybeans due to anti-protein factors that the rumen bacteria can destroy at lower
levels. Grind the raw soybean seed to expose the trypsin inhibitor enzymes to the rumen microbes.
If soybean seed is replacing fuzzy cottonseed, check the level of functional fiber in the ration and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in the total ration.
OPPORTUNITY 4: By product feeds high in NDFD and NDF can be another choice if forage NDFD levels are low. In the Midwest, corn gluten feed at $120 a ton has a favorable break-even price
of $202 a ton and wheat midds priced at $125 a ton (break even at $173 a ton). Substituting 5 to 7 pounds of by-product feed for low-quality forage can be economic and nutrient advantage, but
check effective fiber levels.
OPPORTUNITY 5: Be aware of damaged feed ingredients. Low wheat grain prices due to wheat scab or grain sprouting in the field can be discounted in price by 25 to 50 percent. Be aware mycotoxins could be present in the wheat grain. Mycotoxin risk can also exist in wheat straw which could be a problem for high
straw-low energy dry cow ration. Fuzzy cottonseed from southern regions may experience mold due to wet fall harvest conditions.
Take Home Message
Forages can may a challenge in 2016 on your farm. Be aware of forage quality changes and strategically feeding of lower quality forages can support optimal milk yield and components. With
potential lower milk prices in early 2016, do not sacrifice milk production.