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Fall forage options

Jim Paulson, Dairy Extension Educator
August 22, 2015

Corn silage harvest is right around the corner here in Minnesota. In much of the state, it looks to be a bumper crop for corn that should make excellent silage and the yield above average. If you are in an area that had alfalfa winter kill this past winter, carefully project your needed forage supply for the next 12 months. One way to do this is to develop a forage supply budget much like you would do a cash flow sheet. It can be done on paper or on a spreadsheet on the computer. It might look similar to the one pictured below.

Forage Source Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec. Totals
Corn silage, bag                 150 mt 150 mt     300
Corn silage, bun 200 200 200 200 175 150 150 150 H   200 200 1600
Haylage 1st             150 150 50        
Haylage 2nd 150 150 150 150         200 200 150 150 1300
Haylage 3rd     125 125 125 125 75            
Big Squares 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 15 mt 180 mt
Baleage 2 30 b/mt 30 b/mt                      
Baleage 3     15 b/mt 15 b/mt 15 b/mt 15 b/mt 15 b/mt 15 b/mt          
Small Squares                          
Big Rounds 1st                          
Big Rounds 2nd                          
Big Rounds 3rd                          
Cover crop Fall                 15 days 31 days 31 days    

mt = tons
H = harvest
b/mt = bales per ton

If you are proficient at setting up spreadsheets, you may choose to add dry matter needs and as-fed tons. Or, auto sum your needs per month and compute deficits, expected silage losses, acres needed or other options. The goal of the spreadsheet is to help think through what you have for inventory at the end of the harvest season and how you will get to next fall while keeping rations as consistent as possible. The spreadsheet can also help allocate forage to the best use; prioritizing forage for lactating cows or heifers and dry cows. It will also help to plan your cash flow and help determine when to make needed purchases.

Grazing dairies can also utilize a similar format in planning out their grazing paddocks, the need for supplemental forage in winter, filling in the summer slump in pasture productivity and stocking rates.

The spreadsheet shows fall cover crops used as an added supply of forage. This is an excellent option for land following canning crops, winter cereal grains or terminating a poor hay stand after a third cutting. One suggested mix is to plant 1 - 1/2 bushels of oats with 2 pounds of turnip seed. This will provide good grazing in 6 to 8 weeks. I would not include more than 2 pounds of turnips in the mix. Cows like turnips but can over-consume it which can lead to off milk flavors and some possible respiratory issues in cool, wet fall weather. You could also add 2 pounds of radish seed for soil improvement or other cool season grasses such as annual ryegrass.

An option for fall grazing is to let a portion of either pasture or hay ground to grow for an extended period of time before freeze up. This has been called "stockpiling" forage. This management technique has been used by beef producers for out-wintering stock cows. With this method, producers might mow the forage and put it in windrows. This makes it easier for cattle to consume the forage even if it has snow on it. Cool season grasses and small grains make excellent forage choices for stockpiling. These forages have very high forage quality when growing in the fall. They are lower in NDF, and higher in digestibility and sugar content.

Another fall forage option is to harvest corn fields. There can be a lot of low quality forage in corn fields that can be used for dry cows and bred heifers when supplemented with vitamins, minerals and some additional protein. Corn stalk residue is highest in the fall and declines once the forage gets excessive rain or snow on it. If cattle can choose, they will choose leaves and husk first. While low in crude protein at about 8%, digestibility and energy is more moderate and can provide a lot of forage fiber and energy.

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