From Field to Feed

Published on: 14:19PM Jul 23, 2010

By Zach Myers


Myers Dairy, in the Appalachian foothills, is home to 830 Holsteins and 700 replacements.


Nutrition is the key to milk production, and forage quality is the key to good nutrition. We use two main forage sources, triticale haylage and corn silage.

Stage of maturity, particle length and dry matter percent are critical to producing high-quality triticale haylage. If managed correctly, triticale haylage can be a very good source of highly digestible fiber.

We try to start mowing when approximately 10% of the plants are headed out. With triticale, once you see the first seed head, you have a two- or three-day window to get it mowed at the right stage to maximize digestibility and tonnage. We try to have it chopped as short as possible to aid in correctly packing it.

When choosing corn hybrids, I am looking to maximize forage digestibility, grain content and tonnage. With today’s hybrids, you can no longer chop based on the one-third milk line rule. If you do, you’ll end up with an ensiled product that is too wet. Before we chop, I take samples of cornstalks from each field, grind them in a chipper/shredder and determine the dry matter (DM) of that field. We chop when whole-plant DM is 36%.

It’s imperative to use a kernel processor when chopping based on whole-plant DM. Since using this method,
I have been able to consistently produce high-quality, digestible corn silage with little to no leachate.

As the corn is being chopped, I take samples of each hybrid and ensile them in a mini-silo made out of a 16" piece of 4" PVC, capped on one end and with a screwtop cap on the other. After 30 days, I send off an ensiled sample of each hybrid for nutrient analysis. This helps me determine which varieties may be worth planting again.

I use a nutrition consultant to formulate our rations and FeedWatch from Valley Agricultural Software to help make sure we deliver the formulated ration. In graduate school, I learned there are three rations: the one that is formulated, the one that is mixed in the feed wagon and the one that is actually delivered to the cows. FeedWatch helps me ensure that these three rations are as close to the same as possible.

The program on my computer communicates wirelessly with the scale in my feed truck. It tracks inventory and deducts the weight of an ingredient as it is added to the mixer. I can set the tolerance of each ingredient to a certain weight, plus or minus. The scale will not advance to the next ingredient until the weight of the previous ingredient is within the tolerance set.

The program also tracks my employee’s accuracy. If he adds an ingredient correctly, he receives 10¢. If he adds too much of an ingredient, he is penalized 25¢. The program is set to allow him the possibility to earn an extra $200 per pay period depending on his accuracy.