Using grass to improve dairy feeding

IMG_1403Dan Undersander, Extension Forage Agronomist
Department of Agronomy
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Phone (608) 263-5070(608) 262-1390

For more information: select “Grasses”


Dan Undersander lets us in on some new tips when grass feeding dairy cows 


3:00 – Total Time
0:13 – Dairy rations too hot for cows
1:00 – How to add grass fiber
1:40 – Positive economics for the dairy
2:23 – The transition to grass
2:51 – Lead out

Dan Undersander grass for dairy cows

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Sevie Kenyon: Dan you’ve been looking at using grass in these dairy rations, what are you learning?

Dan Undersander: We’ve been feeding primarily alfalfa and corn silage and then, of course, concentrate. The thing that we are seeing though is, is that as we’re feeding more corn silage; this becomes a very rich ration. And in fact a survey indicated that twenty, twenty-five percent of the herds in the Midwest have some degree of lameness. Forty-two percent of that’s attributed to nutrition, and the thought being that the rations are too high and non-fibrous carbohydrate, which is the starch and the sugars, and therefore we should add a little bit more fiber back into the diet.

Sevie Kenyon: And how does a dairy farmer go about adding that grass and fiber back to a ration like this?

Dan Undersander: Well our recommendation is for those that are having issues with too much non-fibrous carbohydrate, and want to lower it, that they would plant a mixture of alfalfa and grass. We’d recommend either orchard grass or tall fescue because they yield more consistently throughout the season than timothy or brome grass. But we also want a late maturing variety, so we probably need to buy the premium seed rather than the cheapest seed, and we want a rust resistant variety, so we’ll get good yield off of each of those species.

Sevie Kenyon: How does this affect the economics on the farm?

Dan Undersander: That small amount of lameness, not only affects animal welfare, but does affect the milk production of those animals. We would recommend approximately six pounds of seed per acre along with ten to twelve pounds of alfalfa per acre. We would also recommend a cover crop to increase seeding your yield. We generally have used oats for this, and then that can be harvested as oatlage or we could use two pounds of Italian rye grass, which can be mixed with the orchard grass or tall fescue, and then seeded.

Sevie Kenyon: Dan, how hard is it going to be to make this transition?

Dan Undersander: Our theory of having a mixture of the alfalfan grass is that a farmer could feed just as before, where he has one bunk or a tube of the alfalfa, now alfalfa grass, he has one of corn silage, and then he has his concentrate storage, so the mixing process and the feeding process is exactly the same, we just need to pay attention to a few different parameters as the nutritionist is balancing the ration.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin-Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.

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