With slimmer margins for dairy producers in expected 2015, it’s not too late to review strategies for forecasting forage production and conserving feed on hand in order to reduce expenditures.
“One of the biggest areas of improvement that we continually see is that producers do not conduct an animal inventory or a forage usage projection,” says John Binversie, dairy specialist with Landmark Services Cooperative. “If we know livestock inventories and have a balanced ration in place, creating a budget for total tons of forage needed for the season is a fairly simple task.”
Build a budget
To build a forage usage projection or budget, all forage consuming animals must be accounted for. Rations fed will dictate the total tons of forage needed to satisfy the overall forage demands on the operation.
Don’t overlook taking normal levels of shrinkage into consideration when creating a forage budget. Producing approximately 15 percent more than your anticipated forage needs will allow for ample carryover in emergency situations, says Binversie.
Remember that corn silage increases in digestibility throughout its storage. As a result, new crop corn silage should have an appropriate period of time to improve in terms of feed value. By producing a minimum of three months of carryover corn silage, dairy producers can maximize the nutritional value of the feed they have already harvested
Evaluate harvest and storage
Poor harvesting and storage techniques ultimately lead to the loss of countless tons of forage each year. A variety of tools are available to combat these costly expenses that often go unaccounted.
Forage inoculants are one such tool that can help reduce shrink. “While the upfront cost of preservatives may cause some to second guess their economic return, studies have consistently shown a 3:1 cost advantage,” says Binversie.
Those who use bunkers and piles as a storage medium can take extra precautions that will lead to less spoilage. Pack thin layers of forage at appropriate dry matter levels to expedite the fermentation process. Covering bunkers or piles with a thin layer of oxygen barrier film and a cover of black and white plastic will prevent moisture and oxygen from entering. Covering the sidewalls of a cement bunker with plastic as an added precaution against spoilage is just one more way to prevent the waste of valuable feed, adds Binversie.
Review the nutritional demands of the livestock on your operation.
“Perhaps, there is an opportunity to grow a crop that produces higher tonnage at a lower nutritional value,” says Binversie. For example, feeding sorghum sudan, oatlage or ryegrass in a heifer ration.
Scouting for high quality dry hay early in the buying season can also be beneficial to offset costs. Particularly if you know ahead of time how much hay you might need to purchase.
“Dairy producers can be better prepared for the forage demands of their herd by building a budget, conserving inventories and considering other creative solutions,” says Binversie. “It’s never too early to begin planning, start today.”