A Recap of 2020 Forages

By Joe Gier, Landmark Dairy Technical Consultant
608-628-2152 | joseph.gier@landmark.coop

In the dairy industry, 2020 will go down as a crazy year with the number of challenges the industry has faced due to the onset of COVID-19. However, it does look like there are going to be some bright spots in the dairy business as we approach year end. One of those highlights for most farms in Southern Wisconsin is the forage production from this summer and early fall.

As farms came out of spring 2020, the one thing that they could not afford was another extremely wet summer. Many farms were very low or even out of haylage. Luckily, we did not see much for winter kill this spring, which allowed a good first crop harvest to start accumulating a haylage supply. The second, third, and fourth crops for most farms were not bumper crops, but we did get cooperative weather, for the most part, and a decent haylage supply.

There are ways that you can conserve this year’s haylage supply. Plan with your nutritionist now to ensure that the haylage you harvested will be fed at a rate that will make it last until next summer. It may also be a good time to consider a fall fertilizer application on the hay fields to help boost quality and tonnage for next year. In addition, rather than feeding haylage to heifers, you can feed them crops like rye, wheatlage, triticale, and sudan grasses. Analyze your cropping situation and see if one of these crops will work for you to feed young stock, so you can save your good haylage for the lactating cows.

Now is also a good opportunity to look at whether or not a fall/winter seeding will help your dairy. As the harvest progresses, there will likely be time later this fall to get these seedings in. Some important factors to consider are when to harvest these crops next spring, and what day length seed selection to use on your corn once these crops are harvested.

This fall, most dairies have expressed satisfaction with the tonnage and feed quality of their corn silage. Some dairies went so far as to allocate nearly all of their corn acres to silage varieties, and have harvested large amounts of corn silage to rebuild their supply. These same dairies took opportunities throughout the past 12 months to layer in ground corn contracts so they could devote more acres to silage. Look at your forage analysis to see if your silage has high starch value and high digestibility, and the potential to deliver tonnage to the bunker. Remember that the higher you can get your forages in digestibility, the more forage you can feed your cows at a lower feed cost. Higher quality forages also tend to lead to better components, which will help on your milk check premiums.

By examining the results of the 2020 forage crop and preparing early for the 2021 cropping season, you should be positioned for a very profitable year in 2021.