Farm News and Views: Consider feed strategies with limited alfalfa supplies

3:06 PM, May 25, 2013  |  Comments
Tina Kohlman
Tina Kohlman
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This past year's weather has presented many challenges throughout Wisconsin resulting in tight hay inventories.

The dairy industry is facing the lowest May 1 hay stock levels on record, 48 percent lower than compared to a year ago in the Midwestern states. Last year's historic drought has led to a substantial decrease in hay production compounded by this year's cold, wet spring with alfalfa winter kill and limited pasture growth.

These conditions have created issues regarding forage supply that significantly impact dairy operations. Many farmers may find they are short of feed both this summer and in the coming winter months. Although every farm is different, there are management strategies that may assist you in feeding the dairy cattle and optimizing the forage on your farm:

? Maintain an updated inventory of feeds on the farm. Knowing the amount of quality feed will help you plan for the future. Determine how much existing forage you have in inventory as well as an estimate of feed you will harvest this spring for comparison with forage needs. Include in your estimate feeding losses and refusals as well as normal planned purchases. Adjust the diet as necessary to ensure sufficient forages to get through the summer feeding period.

? Source forages from outside sources. With high amounts of winter injury and record low hay inventories, alfalfa supplies are likely to remain tight and prices high. Be proactive in sourcing additional forages as availability may be reduced and prices rise with demand.

? Increase corn silage. There are times when the cost of importing hay is too expensive and corn silage is the highest yielding and highest quality forage available. If adequate corn silage inventory is available, an option is to increase corn silage feeding. Work with your local nutritionist to formulate diets to help cows remain healthy and performing well on a high corn silage diet.

? Plant summer annuals. Summer annuals or other forages may provide an option for additional forage which can be used for heifer and dry cow rations.

? Utilize non-forage fiber sources in dairy diets. Minimize forage in the diet by reformulating diets to include non-forage fiber sources and to stretch out forage inventories. Non-forage fiber sources such as soybean hulls, corn gluten feed and cottonseed hulls can help to meet the animal's fiber requirement while maintaining proper rumen health and production.

? Focus on proper forage harvest and storage techniques. Evaluate your options for storing forages to prevent shrink and increase efficiency of forage feeding.

? Test forages. Know the quality of your forages and adjust the ration as appropriate.

? Limit feed for dairy heifers. UW-Extension research has shown limit feeding heifers with a high concentrate diet is successful and reduces the amount of forage needed for heifers.

? Evaluate herd size. An option for some producers may be to decrease cow and heifer inventories. Evaluate potential cull cows, including excessive numbers of replacement heifers to reduce forage needs and to stretch forage inventories. However, reducing animal numbers can potentially compromise future profitability. Take into consideration milk and feed futures prices, housing availability and opportunities to rebuild herd inventories in the future when feed is more readily available.

Carefully plan to help reduce the economic impact of significant alfalfa winter kill and low hay/haylage inventories. Work with your management team to assess the situation and develop both a cropping and feeding plan to meet this year's feed needs while maintaining long-term farm profitability.

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