Tough Times for Forage in the Southwest

May 6, 2013 08:25 PM

Art Schaap

Art Schaap
Clovis and Portales, N.M.

The Schaaps manage four dairies, including an organic operation, and milk 5,500 cows. They’re also partners in a cheese factory.


Forages in eastern New Mexico and the West Texas area have been our most difficult and biggest challenge in the last two years. The quality of a majority of our forages has been below par, and availability has been drastically reduced. Due to this fact, we have had to buy more forage.

During the last two years, we have received only one-third of the normal annual rainfall, and this has created a severe drought situation. As a result, we have had to buy more forage from outside vendors. Many of these forage sources come from long distances, and this has increased our cost of production.

We normally grow 50% to 70% of what we feed our cattle from our own farm. We cut our wheat and sorghum silage in the dough stage to maximize tonnage. Corn silage is cut three-fourths black line and kernel processed. All of our hay is put into haylage in piles to maximize soil moisture retention on our fields.

All of our forages are dry-matter tested bi-weekly as they are fed. Our alfalfa hay is of high quality and purchased in the mountain states, which is our main "milk maker." Generally, the more hay we feed, the more our cows eat, the more milk we get.

Our local lab, located only 10 miles away, has us on a route that picks up our forage samples and tests them for moisture and nutrient composition. After we receive this information, we adjust our rations and dry matter to ensure proper nutrient levels for all our cows.

During this difficult time, we have had to purchase forages such as corn stalks, CRP grass, cotton burrs, wheat straw and peanut shells. We have even fed whole cotton bolls. With this style of forages, we recommend using a tub grinder!

The use of these unconventional forage sources has altered our traditional methods of feeding. We must now critically examine all forage sources and try to incorporate them in a way that will minimize cost and satisfy our production goals.

Difficult times call for creative changes, and we have definitely learned that feeds that we never would have considered in "normal" times have found a place in our milk- and dry-cow rations. However, we are looking forward to the rainy season, if it ever decides to show up, God willing.

Schaap’s most recent prices

$18.10 (3.70 bf,
3.10 prt)

Cull cows    

Springing heifers

Alfalfa hay (milk cow)


Rolled milo

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