How to survive a tough forage year
If you’re an Indiana forage producer, you know 2010 was challenging. In many parts of Indiana, persistent rains prevented timely harvesting, resulting in poor-quality hay. In parts of southern Indiana, lack of moisture produced a serious lack of quantity.
Whether your problem was quantity or quality, Purdue Beef Extension specialist Ron Lemenager says there are things you can do. The very first thing is to test your forage.
“Before I can help you put together a balanced ration, I need to know the dry matter content and adjusted crude protein values of the forage,” he says. “I also need to get some idea of the energy value and the neutral detergent fiber value to estimate how much the animal is likely to eat.”
• Much of Indiana’s 2010 hay crop was low in either quality or quantity.
• Supplement inadequate forages with various choices.
• You must test your forages before supplementing.
Once you’ve got an analysis, Lemenager suggests the following options, along with rules of thumb for each. Use them to make the best of a difficult situation.
Corn or byproducts
Lemenager says most Indiana forages are a combination of cool-season grasses, like orchardgrass or tall fescue, with legumes mixed in. As a result, these forages typically tend to be adequate in protein, with energy being the first limiting nutrient.
Corn is traditionally the first choice to add energy. However, Lemenager cautions against feeding more than 0.3% of an animal’s body weight. For a 1,000-pound heifer, that’s 3 pounds of corn per day.
“To feed more than that will confuse the ‘bugs’ in the rumen about whether they’re supposed to digest starch or cellulose, and they won’t be able to efficiently utilize the forage, which is the base component,” Lemenager says.
Other high-starch supplements include corn screenings, which may be fed up to 0.3% of body weight, and wheat middlings, which contain some starch. Feed up to 0.5%. Pelleted soybean hulls are a low-starch supplement option that’s high in digestible fiber. Feed up to 1% of body weight.
For situations requiring additional energy and protein, wet or dry distillers grains with solubles may be fed up to 0.5% of body weight. You can feed corn gluten up to 0.6% on a dry equivalent basis. With either one, Lemenager says you should add some extra calcium as limestone to avoid a calcium-to-phosphate imbalance.
“Using rules of thumb in these situations will keep you in the safe range,” Lemenager says.
Wet distillers grains
Getting first-cutting hay harvested without rain was a big problem this year. Co-ensiling forage with wet distillers grains may offer a good solution in the future.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take direct-cut hay, co-ensile it with wet distillers grains, keep it and make weather a non-factor?” Lemenager asks.
His research team found it’s not only possible, but also provides attractive side benefits. When the forage-WDG S combination is co-ensiled at about 60% moisture, performance of feedlot steers was equal to or better than adding DDGS or WDGS to the mixer at feeding time. Adding distillers grains increased shelf life compared to regular, ensiled haylage. Co-ensiling may make WDGS more practical.
“We have a lot of small producers who have a hard time buying WDGS in large quantities without spoilage,” he says. “Here’s a way they can buy more WDGS. Mix it with first-cutting forage, which they can make in a more timely manner, and capitalize two ways.”
Another possibility for supplementing short forage supplies is planting late-summer annuals, like oats, turnips, cereal rye or ryegrass. However, best results occur planting these in mid-August.
Cornstalks can be grazed now that harvest is over. However, expect to supplement for nutritional protein and energy requirements.
To stretch tight hay supplies, limiting cow access time to round bales can significantly reduce amount wasted. Cattle with progressively fewer hours per day wasted less accordingly in Lemenager’s trials.
Cows with four hours access per day reduced hay disappearance, intake plus waste, by 37%, compared to cows with 24-hour access.
Contact Lemenager at 765-494-4817 or 765-427-5972, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boone writes from Wabash.
This article published in the December, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.