Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Managing Forage Inventories

This blog entry is a follow up to "Taking Forage Inventories", an article written for the AgFocus monthly newsletter from January 2013 and "How to take forage inventories" from the February 2013 issue of Progressive Dairymen. Many farmers will be short on hay and silage in the coming months and tough management decisions will need to be made in 2013. Most management options available boil down to one of four areas: 1) reducing on-farm losses of forage, 2) buying replacement hay or silage, 3) feeding alternative forage sources, and 4) selling animals to match forage inventories. Prior to making these decisions, a forage inventory should be taken in order to determine how long current stocks of forage will last.

Reducing On-Farm Losses of Forage
Silage and hay can be lost at many points from the field to the cow. See the December 2012 blog entry for a more in-depth discussion of Reducing Hay and Silage Harvesting Losses. Many steps can also be taken to minimize forage losses during storage and feed-out. Unfortunately for farmers many of the decisions that contribute to storage and feeding losses have already been made. However, maintaining at least 6 inches of feed-out a day from bunkers and bags, keeping hay stored out of the elements, and patching holes in the plastic covering silage can help reduce storage losses. A future blog post will discuss Reducing Hay and Silage Storage Losses in more detail. Large amounts of forage can also be lost at feeding. One example is that a lot of hay is often wasted because animals are fed with inefficient feedersWell designed feeders greatly reduce the feed that is wasted. Reducing Hay and Silage Feeding Losses will also be discussed in more detail in a future blog post.

Buying Replacement Hay or Silage
This option for filling short forage inventories has already occurred on many farms, and farmers have paid record high prices across the nation for that hay and silage. In some areas there simply is not any feed left to buy. Many hay and silage pricing tools and auction prices are reported on-line to assist farmers in arriving a a fair local price for buyer and seller. The Weekly Hay Market Demand and Price Report for the Upper Midwest is one of most widely viewed sources. It quotes multiple hay auction prices for a wide variety of hay qualities and bale types. Archived prices are also listed on this website. Buying forage online is very risky proposition, especially if there is no off-line connection between buyer and seller. Only pay after hay has been delivered and verified by lab test or inspection that is the quality claimed by the seller.

Feeding Alternative Forage Sources
Most farms will seriously examine alternative forage sources in order to bridge the gap before the 2013 crop can be harvested.

Small Grain Silage
Many farms planted oats for silage last summer and harvested them last fall. Winter triticale, winter wheat, and winter rye have been planted across the country either as cover crops or for grain.  Research from Cornell University (Winter Triticale--A Cropping Opportunity and Winter-Forage Small Grains to Boost Feed Supply: Not Just a Cover Crop Anymore!) has demonstrated that 2-5 tons of DM  of 15%+ crude protein (CP) and less than 60% neutral detergent fiber (NDF) are attainable from winter small grain silage. Timely fall planting, sufficient nitrogen fertility in the spring (75-100 lbs per acre of total nitrogen from legumes, manure, or fertilizers), and harvest at the flag leaf stage (no seed heads emerged) are necessary to achieve high yields and quality. Work from the University of Wisconsin has shown that when harvest of winter wheat, winter rye, and winter triticale is delayed until the boot stage, yields are consistently 3 tons of DM per acre, but CP content declines to 12-14% (Winter Cereals for Spring Forage). A feeding trial from the University of Minnesota demonstrated that winter triticale silage with nearly 18% CP was equal to alfalfa silage in dry matter intake (DMI), fat corrected milk production, and milk composition when fed as the sole forage in the ration to dairy cows compared to alfalfa silage (Alternative Field Crops Manual: Triticale).

Work from Iowa State has shown that 1.0+ ton of DM of spring planted oat silage that has 20-22% CP, 52-54% NDF, and 75% total digestible nutrients (TDN) can be grown if harvested at the boot stage. Delaying harvest can increase yields up to 3 tons of DM per acre, but forage quality declines rapidly (Oats for Forage). The introduction of oats bred for forage production has increased the yield potential of spring planted oats to 2-3 ton DM per acre, and oat silage yields are generally higher for late maturity grain varieties than earlier maturity varieties (Pea and Small Grain Mixtures). 

Fibrous Byproducts
Adding fibrous byproducts to rations can greatly extend forage inventories. By-Product Feedstuffs in Dairy Cattle Diets in the Upper Midwest by Randy Shaver, University of Wisconsin provides a great description of the feeding values of beet pulp, brewers dried and wet grains, corn gluten feed, cottonseeds, distillers dried and wet grains, hominy, malt sprouts, soy hulls, and wheat by-products. Generally these byproducts can replace between 10-30% of the forage without decreasing DMI or milk production. Dr. Shaver's paper also discusses high-protein and unusual by-products that can be fed to cattle. Farmers should consult with their local nutritionist to evaluate if these products or others can be incorporated into their rations.

Alkali Treated Straw or Corn Stalks
Beef producers have long used various methods of treating straw, corn stalks, or corn cobs with a alkali product in order to increase the digestibility these materials for their cattle. Recent work from the Nebraska University (Digestibility of Crop Residues After Chemical Treatment and Anaerobic Storage) has shown a 10 to 15% increase of in vitro DM digestibility after treating with sodium hydroxide or calcium oxide and storing in sealed plastic for 30 days. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Midyear Husker Beef Nutrition Conference June 20, 2012 also discussed this topic in great detail (Use of Corn and Residues in the Future for Beef Cattle). See the video "Demonstration of treatment of corn stalks and wheat straw" for some practical ways to implement this practice on farm. Residue digestibility can be increased 15-60% according to Shane Gadberry's, University of Arkansas outline of treating residues with calcium oxide, sodium hydroxide, ammonia and urea (Treating Corn Stalks and Other Crop Residues to Improve Feed Value) depending on the material and treatment method. Generally, these treatment processes involves grinding the material, rehyrdating the residue to 50% moisture, applying calcium oxide or sodium hydroxide at 5% DM of residue weight, and then storing in a silage bag for at least 7 days. Urea is applied at 3% DM of residue weight after the residue has been brought to 50% moisture and stored for at least 21 days in a sealed bag. Ammonia is pumped through a pipe into a sealed stack of hay or straw at 3% of DM weight and left for at least three weeks prior to feeding. Safety is big concern with these practices, and precautions need to be taken when handling these materials. Rehyrdrating the residues also requires large quantities of available water. Results from a feeding trial at the University of Wisconsin where corn stover was treated with CaO and partially replaced corn grain in dairy diets are available (Lime-treated corn stover: How to do it and it's feed value).

Poor Quality Hay
Already many cattle have been consuming feed that normally would make their farmers cringe. Poor quality hay (i.e. an old pasture that has the feeding value of straw) fed in small amounts may buy farmers some time before finding better hay or buying an higher quality feed/byproduct. Feeding bad hay should be avoided at all costs. It is one of the most risky management decisions to make when short on forage. Foreign material, the presence of harmful alkaloids, and unknown residual compounds are just a few of the risks of feeding bad hay to cows.

Selling Animals To Match Forage Inventories
While no farmer wants to consider this option, it will need to be on the table on many farms in 2013. Beef farmers in the South and Great Plains have already liquidated much of their herds in recent years prior to the drought of 2013. Cull prices for dairy cows have been strong in recent months and farmers should consider removing the least productive and efficient animals before cull prices fall. This can be a very difficult decision, but seriously considering it, along with the other options will help farmers make it through until forage inventories are replenished.

Bottom Line
1. Taking forage inventories and discussing management options now is necessary across the US.

2. Farmers will be able to manage short forage inventories by a combination of reducing on farm forage losses, buying replacement hay or silage, feeding alternative forage sources, and/or selling animals to match forage inventories.

Alternative Field Crops Manual: Triticale.
E.A. Oelke, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota
E.S. Oplinger and M.A. Brinkman, Department of Agronomy and Cooperative Extension, University of Wisconsin.

By-Product Feedstuffs in Dairy Cattle Diets in the Upper Midwest 
Randy Shaver, Dairy Science Department, University of Wisconsin

Digestibility of Crop Residues After Chemical Treatment and Anaerobic Storage
Adam L. Shreck, Crystal D. Buckner, Galen Erickson, Terry Klopfenstein, Michael J. Cecava, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Lime-treated corn stover: How to do it and it's feed value
Dave Combs, University of Wisconsin

Oats for Forage
Steve Barnhart, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University

Pea and Small Grain Mixtures
Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin

Treating Corn Stalks and Other Crop Residues to Improve Feed Value
Shane Gadberry Associate Professor, Animal Science, University of Arkansas

Use of Corn and Residues in the Future for Beef Cattle
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Midyear Husker Beef Nutrition Conference on the use of corn residues.June 20, 2012.Agricultural Research and Development Center, Mead, NE.

Weekly Hay Market Demand and Price Report for the Upper Midwest
Ken Barnett, University of Wisconsin-Extension

Winter Cereals for Spring Forage
Edward S. Oplinger Extension Agronomist, University of Wisconsin

Winter-Forage Small Grains to Boost Feed Supply: Not Just a
Cover Crop Anymore!
Tom Kilcer, Advanced Ag Systems
Shona Ort, Quirine Ketterings, and Karl Czymmek, Nutrient Management Spear Program, Dept. of Animal Science, Cornell University, PRODAIRY, Dept. of Animal Science, Cornell University

Winter Triticale--A Cropping Opportunity
Tom Kilcer, Advanced Ag Systems