Sorghum harvest over much of Kansas and surrounding states was late in the fall of 2014, but most had good yields. Damp conditions coupled with high humidity in some areas prevented the sorghum from drying down on time. (Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)

To make feeding cattle pay, a number of things have to fall into place. Albert, Kansas, farmer Dale Brady has found a forage that works the best in the ration for his backgrounding operation.

Brady uses a full-season silage with grain—a forage sorghum—to mix in his ration for 600 calves on feed. He also grows the grain sorghum and alfalfa that is ultimately included in the ration. His silage is grown on dryland using no-till practices.

“Basically you put it in the ground, and that’s it,” Brady said. “You let Mother Nature go because it kind of shades the ground.”

Since it’s a full-season variety of forage sorghum, Brady will plant between May 15 and 20, using about 5 or 6 pounds of seed.

“It makes the best silage at that rate,” Brady said. “It’s a big stem, but it’s very juicy.”

Because he grows it on dryland, he can save a little money on fertilizer, and still get good yields.

“We raised 21 tons per acre dryland. It was excellent,” Brady said. “One thing about this variety is it’s not very tall, but it’s really leafy and it heads out. I suppose we had 60-bushel grain with it.”

Because of his limited rainfall— he recorded 32 inches in 2014—he is happy when the forage sorghum can reach anywhere from 5 to 7 feet, giving him the tonnage he will need in the rations.

“We’re awful lucky,” Brady said. “All the stuff they’ve got now, it’s got drought tolerance and it takes less moisture. That helps out a lot.”

Brady used to bale sumac in round bales, grinding them on the farm for the cattle. Now to save labor costs, he will hire a chopping crew to get the forage sorghum out of the field.

Later another company will come in and pack it for him, again saving him more in the long run with time, labor and handling costs.

“We have a grinder tub and we used to do it ourselves, but oh, that was a pain,” he said. “Just had to handle it again. So we just hired it chopped.”

He’s been chopping his forages for silage the last seven years and thinks it fits the operation now.

Brady switched to forage sorghum for silage because of the tonnage it produces. The added tonnage has helped him reduce his feed costs as well as have the cattle perform higher with less.

“I think the cattle do better, and there’s more value in that. I’m not knocking sumac, but this has close to 10 percent protein,” he said. “This year we had no winter and I think our cattle gained over 2 pounds a day.”

The silage smells good, it stores well-packed in a pile, tarped and covered and the cattle eat all of it. There’s very little waste, helping to keep feed costs down.

“We had stalks before and we always had to clean out the bunk line,” Brady said. “They don’t waste anything with this.”

Of the 600 head on feed, half of them came off grass while the others were fed. Brady plans on adding some more feeding pens but is taking a wait-and-see approach. 

“The market is so spooky right now. You don’t want to dive in too deep,” he said. “We hope to make a good profit, but I don’t know what’s going to happen here (because) the last few years we’ve been in a drought.”

But the cattle have proven to be profitable and help the farm survive.

“The cattle have been carrying us,” Brady said.

Even though it costs him more to plant the forage sorghum initially, he saves money with input costs, and at selling time the cattle have gained more weight for the cost.

“It’s expensive, but I think you get it back because your cattle do so well,” Brady said. “I don’t have a dollar figure but you can tell by the cattle, ’cause there’s no waste and the feed value is there.”

In his area, Brady said not many people grow corn or other types of crops for silage due to the water situation. Water is limited to what Mother Nature will provide, as the nearby Walnut Creek doesn’t allow for much irrigation past its banks.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Beef Cattle Specialist Ted McCollum said water plays a huge role for the growing acceptance of sorghum silage crops in the feed- yard segment of the beef industry.

“Much of this is the result of declining water tables, need to spread existing water further and higher costs of irrigation,” McCollum said. “To a lesser extent acceptance of the sorghum silages in the dairy industry, and finally good hay markets.”

McCollum said three considerations come into play when look- ing to pick a forage sorghum or sorghum/sudangrass hybrid—cost, water and opportunities. First, overall input costs are lower than corn. There is less water required to carry the crop to harvest. Finally, the potential opportunities to generate the same sales with lower inputs if the market for silage is available.

Forage sorghum, as compared to corn silage or other forages, can be used in a variety of applications, McCollum said. Forage sorghum and sorghum/sudangrass hybrids are often used for silage production, with forage sorghum having the advantage in that case.

McCollum still says it depends on many factors to compare forage sorghums to corn silage.

“On a lab assay basis, several of the varieties of forage sorghum and sorghum/sudangrass hybrids compare well with corn silage and some surpass,” he said. “And, some feeding trials using selected vari- eties in feedlot rations and dairy rations have shown that the sor- ghum silages will compare to corn.”

And for Brady, corn just doesn’t fit. “We don’t raise corn because we don’t have the water here. This is a grain sorghum and wheat country,” he said.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com

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