High Quality Forages

Even in the highest producing herds, forage is the main source of fiber and base line milk production. You already understand forage quality? Do you ever experience milk production loss from less than ideal forage? We can always do better; we can improve profitability, improve production, animal  health and reduce purchased feeds with high quality forages.

In the following article, UW-Extension Wood County Agriculture Agent Matt Lippert discusses how high quality forage can have an impact on your farm:

In reviewing what I have written about before in this newsletter, I found that I discussed fiber testing and measures of forage quality in October 2014, fairly recently for a newsletter that doesn’t come out that often, but for such an important topic also a year and a half ago. There are many reasons to keep forage quality on the front page for 2016:

  1. The milk price. Improving the protein content and lowering the fiber level, will allow for feeding higher forage diets while maintaining or increasing milk production. If you haven’t paid for the last load of feed before the next one arrives improving home grown forage should be an important goal for you.
  2. Increasing production. Pay attention to this one, it will sound the same as #1 if you don’t follow closely. Not only can we lower the fiber in the forage but we can improve the quality of the fiber in the diet. Some feed tests don’t include NDFd 24, 30 or TTNDFD. Some report RFV instead of RFQ. Reports that don’t report or rank feeds based on fiber digestibility are missing a very important factor. Not all fiber is of equal quality, the differences can account for big differences in animal performance. It pays to improve your efficiency and production with quality forage.
  3. High forage inventories. Fortunately there is more feed around this spring than there has been for a while. Winter damage or drought may change forage supply but for many there are decent supplies, maybe not always of high dairy quality feed however. There is often a trade-off between forage quantity and quality. If you have some forage reserve perhaps we should take that opportunity and focus on quality this year? Shorten the cutting interval on your alfalfa, date of first cutting, days between cuttings, or plant height. Later, for corn silage, consider leaving more stubble.
  4. Inventory management and TMR rations. You can get more use out of average to below quality forages if you can channel them to animals that don’t require high energy feeds, such as heifers and dry cows. Making high quality forage in 2016 to mix with more average forages may also improve animal performance.

 I have already mentioned some of the chances to improve forage quality. First we need to measure it. If you are using forage tests that don’t report fiber digestibility you may not realize that your forage fiber quality it lacking. Until you measure it you just don’t know. Really good quality such as is measured by TTNDFD of over 42% is harder to obtain than you may realize. In season we can reduce cutting interval, especially if you have grasses in your hay mix. Grasses rank well for NDFd- but this is only when harvested in a timely manner, grasses decline fairly quickly in forage quality. We can improve our forage harvesting technique to speed drying and reduce loss in the field.

 Long term we can select for species with high forage quality: BMR, Low-lignin, highly digestible grasses and summer annuals are all possibilities for improving forage quality. We can do well with conventional alfalfa and corn silage if we harvest it at the correct stage, and preserve it well with rapid and clean harvest techniques and careful packing and closing of silage structures.

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