While 2020 is expected to be a big hurdle for dairy and beef cattle producers, a portion of current on-farm challenges are due partly to 2019 effects, including poor forage harvests, according to an announcement from Rock River Laboratory in Watertown, Wis.
Current feed inventories are suffering, even with the help of first-crop hay, and many are searching for alternative forage options to offset this.
“Winterkill exhausted perennial plants, and that, coupled with difficult growing and harvest seasons, was a major contributing factor to nearly depleted feed reserves,” said John Goeser, Rock River animal nutrition, research and innovation director. “Because of prevent plant in 2019, we saw significantly fewer forage acres and are now suffering from shortages of wheat straw and other pillar forages.”
Sustainable nutrition plans
Goeser recommended a sustainable nutrition plan for producers who are facing scarce feed inventories. “Increasing corn silage to keep forage at the same levels isn’t sustainable. This is only a temporary fix and will eventually lead to feeding less and less corn silage and more haylage.” This will not only bring highly digestible starch into the diet but lends to a "yo-yo effect" that is too drastic for continued herd success.
Instead, Goeser said inventories should be reviewed, and depending on the harvest timeline for the next crop, farms should allocate and ration feedstuffs on a per-cow-per-day diet to maintain stability.
“Coming in with high-fiber commodity feeds can also offset the gap,” Goeser suggested. “Analyze them like a forage, [and] then formulate with them.” Such feeds include almond and soy hulls, wheat midds and corn gluten. Accessibility and cost will ultimately determine exactly which commodity feeds are most efficient for the ration.
Plan for near future, long-term crops
As 2020 rolls on, there are still opportunities to contribute to low feed inventories. “In cases of winterkill like we saw, seed down forage oats to build up yield right away,” Goeser said. “This crop is fairly hardy early in the year.” In cases of alfalfa stands that are pulled out after first cut, he recommended warm-season grasses such as sorghum and sudan to help bulk up inventories and improve yield. If there is enough inventory left to sustain through midyear, more cool-season grasses, such as triticale, can produce higher-quality dairy feed, which can be harvested in late June and July.
“If we have three months of time with a hay or haylage crop, then we should look at triticale, Italian ryegrass or a varietal blend,” Goeser explained. “These all produce more than oats but take longer to establish and yield.”
Recognizing the environmental conditions for the past two to three years can be helpful in long-term crop planning. Goeser explained that “alfalfa is great when we can get three to five years of stand production” but suggested also weighing the pros and cons of annual forages that may overwinter better, such as winter wheat and winter rye. “This has potential to reduce risk and offer a consistent crop,” Goeser said. He also suggested being open to cover crop opportunities to double crop in the future.
Whether inventories remain low or have been replenished thanks to first-crop harvest, planning and maintaining a steady ration is key for herd success. The best means of doing this is with the help and expertise of the farm’s team of managers and consultants.
“Work with a trusted seed consultant and nutritionist, and ask the important questions of when is the forage needed, what is being forecasted for the growing season conditions and when is ideal for the forage to be put into silos,” Goeser suggested. “This planting season has been sound, and we all hope that leads to a good growing season for a better 2021 forage inventory.”