As grain and commodity prices are pushing record highs, dairy producers are desperately searching for ways to decrease ration costs. One of the best ways to hold the line on rising feed costs is to utilize higher quality forages.
"Having higher quality forages in the ration allows the producer to feed more forage and less concentrates," says Gene Gengelbach, Ph.D., nutritionist at Agri-King, Inc., Fulton, Ill. "If we can increase the percentage of forage in the diet from 50 to 60 percent, that means we are feeding 4 to 6 pounds less grain and supplement. That could mean decreasing purchased feed costs by a dollar or more per cow per day."
Producers can take several steps to increase forage quality. First, grow varieties or hybrids that were bred to produce highly digestible forage. Many seed companies are offering varieties with improved fiber digestibility and higher sugar or energy content. Second, make sure you harvest the crop at the proper stage of maturity to ensure higher forage quality. For grasses and cereals, harvesting in the boot stage will likely produce feed with high enough energy content and digestibility for high-producing milk cows. If you wait until the crop is headed out, you will harvest more tonnage, but the feed may only be suitable for late-lactation or dry cows and heifers.
Timely harvesting of alfalfa, especially first-cutting, is essential for reducing purchased feed costs and increasing profits. "If you have to decide whether to cut alfalfa or finish your spring planting, my vote would be to always park the planter and get the alfalfa cut on time," says Gengelbach. "Harvesting a few days earlier will give you a generous pay-back in higher protein and energy in your alfalfa haylage or hay."
Finally, after your crop is harvested, protect your investment with a research-proven silage additive, such as Silo-King. The combination of lactic-acid producing bacteria, enzymes and an antioxidant helps ensure that the fermentation proceeds fast and efficiently, while preserving valuable nutrients in the silage. This means that more energy will be available for use by the cow, and less is wasted due to heating or aerobic activity in the silo. Remember, anything you can do to improve forage quality means less reliance on purchased feed.
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