Skip to main content

Why Test Forage Quality?

For nearly four decades scientists have been refining their ability to test forage quality. This has been done in an effort to improve animal nutrition and consequently animal production. Analytical procedures that previously required a week, or more, to complete can now be done in less than 10 minutes and with more accuracy than before. As the ability to analyze forages has improved, the understanding of how to use the test results to improve animal efficiency and performance has also improved. Unfortunately though, forage quality testing is a valuable management tool that many livestock producers still do not utilize.

Greater net profit is the bottom line for why livestock producers need to know the quality of the forages they are feeding! Not knowing the exact quality of the forage being fed is a two-edged sword that can cut into profits either way it swings. A dairy producer who guesses that the crude protein (CP) content of the haylage is 2% units lower and corn silage is 1% unit lower will be feeding more supplemental protein than is necessary. This extra CP to the ration will add $0.09/cow/day in feed costs. With a herd of 100 cows, this is equivalent to $9.00/day. It would take just a little over 3 days of not knowing the quality of the forages and feeding extra protein, as in this example, to pay for the cost of quality analyses (forage quality testing usually costs less than $15.00/sample).

The other edge of this two-edged sword of not knowing forage quality, is over estimating forage quality. Guessing that forage crude protein is greater than what it actually is resultes in adding insufficient supplemental protein to the ration and saving feed costs. Unfortunately, the cows are being “short changed” on CP which could have a negative impact on milk production, especially in early lactation.

It is also important to note that guessing at fiber and mineral content will also have enormous economical impact. For example, the neutral detergent fiber (NDF) content of forages helps determine how much of the forage an animal will consume. Guessing too high or too low can have tremendous implication on intake, animal performance, and health. Knowing the quality of the forage being fed to animals not only saves or makes more money it also allows managers to provide better animal nutrition which will result in greater animal production and improved animal efficiency (lb milk or weight gain per pound of feed consumed).

Knowing the quality of forages when selling or buying them has also proven to be economically smart. At Pennsylvania hay auctions, where the quality of the hay is analyzed, and the results posted on each load prior to the auction confirms the economic value of knowing hay quality. At these auctions, each percentage unit increase in crude protein resulted in $8.00 more per ton. Selling 10 ton of 20% CP hay as 18% CP hay because the quality was not tested will cost the seller about $160! On the other hand, buying 10 ton 18% CP hay as 20% CP hay cost the buyer $160! A similar relationship between quality and price did not occur at hay auctions when the quality of the hay was unknown. Establishing a “fair” price for hay, if you are buying or selling, involves both parties knowing the quality of the hay.

Spring Pasture Walk

Spring Pasture Walk

What: Pasture Walk

Mark your Calendar and call (302) 831-2506 to register by Friday, May 10!!

When: Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Where: Whitehead Cattle Company

1303 Dexter Corner Rd, Townsend, DE 19734

Time: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Credits: Nutrient Management (0.75) Pesticide credit(1.0)

Come and see how Whitehead Cattle Company uses pasture to effectively feed their beef herd.  Learn how to identify weeds and how to control them in a pasture setting. In addition, learn about soil health and how healthy soil is the key to making farms more productive, profitable and resilient—and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  Learn how to take a hay sample and visually evaluate hay.  The workshop will also feature a talk on Pesticide safety – responsible decision-making and actions to protect pesticide users, public health, plant and animal health, and the environment

The meeting is free and everyone interested in attending is welcome.  If you have special needs in accessing this program, please call the office two weeks in advance.

To register or request more information, please call our office at (302)831-2506.

Thank you and see you there.  Dan Severson

Welcome and Introductions 6:00-6:05

Dan Severson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Tour of Pastures and Pasture Management 6:05-6:20

George and Lynda Whitehead, Whitehead Cattle Company

Weed Identification and Control in Pastures 6:20-6:50

Quintin Johnson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Pesticide Safety 6:50-7:15

Dr. Kerry Richards, University of Delaware Pesticide Safety Education Program

 

Soil Health 7:15-7:40

Jayme Arthurs, NRCS Research Conservationist

Proper Hay Sampling and How to Visually Evaluate Hay 7:40-7:55

Dan Severson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Wrap up and Evaluations 7:55-8:00

Dan Severson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Spring Pasture Walk

What: Pasture Walk

Mark your Calendar and call (302) 831-2506 to register by Friday, May 10!!

When: Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Where: Whitehead Cattle Company

1303 Dexter Corner Rd, Townsend, DE 19734

Time: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Credits: Nutrient Management (0.75) Pesticide credit(1.0)

Come and see how Whitehead Cattle Company uses pasture to effectively feed their beef herd.  Learn how to identify weeds and how to control them in a pasture setting. In addition, learn about soil health and how healthy soil is the key to making farms more productive, profitable and resilient—and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  Learn how to take a hay sample and visually evaluate hay.  The workshop will also feature a talk on Pesticide safety – responsible decision-making and actions to protect pesticide users, public health, plant and animal health, and the environment

The meeting is free and everyone interested in attending is welcome.  If you have special needs in accessing this program, please call the office two weeks in advance.

To register or request more information, please call our office at (302)831-2506.

Thank you and see you there.  Dan Severson

Welcome and Introductions 6:00-6:05

Dan Severson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Tour of Pastures and Pasture Management 6:05-6:20

George and Lynda Whitehead, Whitehead Cattle Company

Weed Identification and Control in Pastures 6:20-6:50

Quintin Johnson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Pesticide Safety 6:50-7:15

Dr. Kerry Richards, University of Delaware Pesticide Safety Education Program

 

Soil Health 7:15-7:40

Jayme Arthurs, NRCS Research Conservationist

Proper Hay Sampling and How to Visually Evaluate Hay 7:40-7:55

Dan Severson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Wrap up and Evaluations 7:55-8:00

Dan Severson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Don’t Ignore Alfalfa During Planting Season; Watch for Weevil Now!

After a wet fall and a frigid winter, alfalfa plants have experienced stressful conditions that may have a negative impact on yields come harvest. For some producers, insect infestations could be the final blow that puts an end to a profitable hay crop.

Typically arriving during planting season while tractors race to the fields, it is easy to put scouting for weevil damage on the back burner. However, according to Pennsylvania State University Department of Entomology, it is important to realize that unresolved weevil damage can have a significant impact on plant height, translating to yield lost. In fact, studies show that one larva in thirty 16 in. tall plants can translate to a loss of approximately 0.75 lb per acre.

Recognizing Alfalfa Weevil

The larvae of alfalfa weevils have three pairs of legs and range in size from 1/16 in. when they first hatch to 5/16 in. when they are fully grown. During development, the larvae also vary in color depending on their age. Shortly after hatching, the larvae are light yellow-green (Figure 1) but will turn a darker green after feeding on plant material (Figure 2). The distinguishing characteristics of the alfalfa weevil are its dark brown-black head capsule and prominent white stripe that is present on its back and runs the length of the body.

Screen Shot 2019-04-26 at 2.34.33 PM

With conditions ripe for these pesky pests, now is the time to start scouting fields for weevil populations. Pennsylvania State Extension agents recommend using a sweep net to help reveal if weevil larvae are present in your fields. If larvae make their presence known, determining their population levels should be the next step.

To determine population levels, systematically select 30 stems from across a field, break them off gently (to avoid losing any larvae prematurely), and shake them into a bucket. If the number of larvae exceeds the numbers in Table 1, growers should consider a management tactic, such as insecticidal treatment.

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 11.00.16 AM
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences – Department of Entomology

For more on alfalfa management, read:

Dealing with Winter Injured Forage Stands

Fields with extensive damage may need to be destroyed, rotated out, and replanted with and annual forage. ( Kim Cassida, Michigan State University Extension )

I’ve been hearing more reports from around the Midwest of winter injured forage stands, especially in alfalfa. The saturated soil during much of the winter took its toll, with winter heaving being quite severe in many areas of the state. So, what should be done in these injured stands?

The first step is to assess how extensive and serious is the damage. Review the CORN issue of the week of April 2: Assessing Winter Damage and Evaluating Alfalfa Stand Health.

Fields with extensive damage may need to be destroyed, rotated out, and replanted with and annual forage.

If the damage is extensive and throughout the entire field, it usually is best to destroy the stand, rotate out, and plant an emergency forage. In these cases, corn silage is the number one choice for an annual forage in terms of yield and nutritive value. But corn silage won’t be an option in some situations. Forage might be needed before corn silage can be ready, or the equipment and storage infrastructure is not available.

Other acceptable short-season forage options include spring oat, spring triticale, spring barley, and Italian ryegrass planted as soon as possible now in early spring and harvested at the proper stage of maturity this summer. For more details on these species, see the Ohio Agronomy Guide and a related article in the latest issue of Buckeye Dairy News: Early-Spring Planted Forages for Dairy Farms.

Other options, particularly for beef cattle or sheep, include the brassicas. When planting in late May and June, the summer annual grasses will do better, such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudan, forage sorghum, pearl millet, and teff.

With a little help, some stands may be salvageable.

If the forage stand is damaged, but still salvageable, here are a few suggestions to increase forage production this year and longer term that I’ve adapted from an article by my colleague Bruce Anderson, the University of Nebraska Forage Extension Specialist:

  • For fields planted last year, try to interseed this spring to thicken up the thin spots. Even in alfalfa, autotoxicity is not a problem until after stands are more than one year old.
  • For older fields, autotoxicity and other problems make interseeding alfalfa risky. But in other species interseeding is still possible, and older alfalfa stands can also be interseeded with species other than alfalfa. Consider adding red clover for longer term stands, or if shorter term production of legume is desirable for this year, consider interseeding crimson clover or berseem clover (they will not do much after this year though).
  • Annuals like oats and Italian ryegrass can be interseeded right away; or plant summer annual grasses right after the first cutting. Italian ryegrass planted now will establish rapidly and will continue to produce all year and might even continue into next spring. Oats will produce only a single cutting.
  • Perennials like orchardgrass, festulolium, meadow fescue, and red clover can bring long-term help but won’t add much to this year’s production.

If you do interseed damaged stands, the competition by the surviving plants for sunlight could be a serious threat to success. It only takes about one week of shading by a full canopy to kill seedlings below. About the only way to open up that canopy once it develops is to harvest extra early. This will lower first harvest yield and may further weaken already stressed plants. But it’s the only way to get enough sunlight to the new seedlings.

In some situations, it might be better to wait until late summer to interseed damaged stands (this of course doesn’t help forage supplies this year though). Forage cut in late August or early September regrows more slowly than in spring, thus causing less competition. Interseeding right after that last harvest has a better chance of succeeding, provided adequate moisture is available.

Winter injury has reduced stands and will reduce forage production in many forage fields this year. Make a careful assessment of the existing stand, but then act quickly and properly to minimize long-term losses.

Get Prepped for Hay Season

As temperatures begin to creep up and spring starts to arrive, it is time to start thinking about the coming hay season. Timing is everything when it comes to high-quality hay production. A pre-harvest inspection of your hay making equipment can help make up valuable time and hopefully cut back on downtime later on. Here are some tips and things to check on before you make your first bale.

Sharpen up. A good cut on the grass reduces leaf loss and prevents stem damage, which can slow plant recovery. Sharpen or replace dull, damaged blades, sickle sections and cutting mechanisms. Also, check the conditioning rollers, adjust spacing, and roll timing as needed. Properly maintained conditioners will minimize drying time.

My buddy “Ted”. Tedders and rakes may not be as mechanically complex, but they still need to be functioning effectively. Look for teeth that are misaligned or broken, replace or bend if possible. Setting the correct pick-up height will minimize leaf loss and reduce dirt uptake.

Don’t bail on you baler. Perform a thorough inspection on your hay baler. This is the centerpiece of your hay making operation and if it is not functioning properly, things come to a halt. Check shafts, sprockets, pulleys and bearings for signs of wear. Inspect any belts and hoses for cracks. Properly tighten chains and belts. The bearings in the baling chamber often cause the most headache for round baler owners. Now is the time to check them, not when smoke is billowing out of the chamber. Check the rollers for any excessive movement or play. Look at tires and check their air pressure. It is a good practice to do a test run by warming up equipment to check for improperly working components.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Lubricate and grease any bearings and other moving parts that may have grown dry and stiff during the off-season.
Take inventory. Make sure you have plenty of twine, net wrap and or plastic. It also good to have some spare parts on hand to minimize downtime when something breaks. Adequate inventories can save you a trip to town or prevent a complete shutdown.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So many factors contribute to a successful hay season. Don’t let improperly prepped equipment be the factor that slows you down. With your equipment ready, you’ll be prepped for a great hay season.

Consider these spring-planted forage options

he challenging growing conditions of 2018 have left many dairy farms short on forage supplies. So, going into the 2019 growing season, what are some options to bolster forage inventories?

Mark Sulc, Ohio State University (OSU) Extension forage specialist, and Bill Weiss, OSU Extension dairy specialist, discuss the options available to farmers and some considerations to keep in mind in an article published in the Buckeye Dairy News newsletter.

Options

The authors emphasize that corn silage is the number one choice for an annual forage in terms of overall yield and nutritive value. The following options are acceptable short-season forages that can be used to make ends meet, especially if alfalfa winterkill is an issue.

  • Oats: Better adapted to cool, wet soils, and there are several forage varieties available.
  • Spring barley: Usually produces tonnage a little lower than oats or triticale and performs best on well-drained soils. Barley is the earliest maturing for small grains planted in the spring.
  • Spring triticale: A cross between wheat and rye. It is well adapted across a variety of soils and tolerates a low soil pH better than wheat but not to the extent of rye.
  • Italian ryegrass: A biennial with a possible second year production, depending on winter conditions. It is quick to establish and provides high yields of high-quality forage. Forage will be ready to harvest 60 days following seeding and then at 25- to 30-day intervals following for the rest of the first year.

“Plant high-quality seed of a named variety to avoid unpleasant surprises,” the authors recommend. For small grain mixes, reduce the seeding rate of each component to 70 percent of the full rate. Forage peas can be added to the mix to raise crude protein levels.

Small grains can be planted 1.5 inches deep as early as soil conditions allow, while Italian ryegrass should be planted between April 1 and May 1 no more than 0.5 inches deep.

“A burn down application of glyphosate is a cost-effective weed control practice prior to planting,” the authors comment. Additional nitrogen may be needed at 30 to 50 pounds per acre at planting, but manure application can reduce some or all of this needed nitrogen. Italian ryegrass will need about 50 pounds per acre after the first or second harvest.

Harvest timing matters

“Maturity affects composition more than species does,” the authors state. The nutritional value of small grain forages declines rapidly with maturity.

When harvested at the preboot stage, small grain forages will have around 20 percent crude protein (CP), which varies with the amount of additional nitrogen applied. It will usually test about 40 percent neutral detergent fiber (NDF), 30 percent acid detergent fiber (ADF), and have an in vitro digestibility of around 80 percent. Dry matter (DM) yields will range between 1.5 and 2.4 tons per acre.

“Small grain forages harvested in the boot stage have energy concentrations similar to corn silage but with greater concentrations of protein,” the authors explain.

At the milk stage, plants have an average of 12 percent CP, 48 percent NDF, 35 percent ADF, and an in vitro digestibility of 62 percent; they have about 10 percent less energy than corn silage. This nutritional content is similar to alfalfa. Dry matter yields generally range from 3 to 4 tons per acre.

According to the authors, Italian ryegrass planted in central Ohio produced 2.5 to 4.6 tons of DM per acre in the first year and 1 to 4.5 tons of DM per acre in the second. An NDF content of around 50 percent and CP concentrations between 12 and 16 percent can be expected.

If Italian ryegrass is fed as the sole source of forage, milk production will be less than what is seen with corn silage. But according to the authors, if it comprises 15 to 20 percent of the diet’s DM, milk production, composition, and feed efficiency are good. The authors do warn that ryegrass is typically high in potassium, so make sure to supplement magnesium.

Above all, the authors recommend testing all harvested forages to provide accurate nutritional values for balancing rations.

Tough to dry

If mechanically harvesting, chopping and ensiling or making baleage are the best options; getting the material to wilt enough for dry bales is a challenge.

Grazing is an effective and affordable alternative to utilizing these forages. Small grains that are young and lush can cause bloat, so feeding a high-quality grass hay, silage, or bloat preventative can help.

To reduce potential problems with off-flavored milk, remove lactating dairy cattle from small grain forages at least two hours prior to milking.


Use Science to Increase Forage Yield

By: Gary Bates, Professor and Director, University of Tennessee Beef and Forage Center

Everyone wants to increase yield.  Usually it means providing more of some type of input.  Maybe more fertilizer, or irrigation, or some other thing that will make plants grow at a faster rate.  But there is a simple way to make our pastures grow faster and produce greater yield.  It involves simply understanding and manipulating a simple principle of plant physiology.  That principle is that plants grow at the fastest rate when they have plenty of leaves to capture sunlight, and the leaves are relatively young so they are very efficient at the photosynthetic process.

Figure 1 illustrates the three phases of plant growth.  In phase 1, the plant doesn’t have much leaf area to capture sunlight.  In order to grow leaves, it has to take stored energy from the roots and crown of the plant for the growth.  It then moves into phase 2, when the plant has plenty of young, efficient leaves.  During this phase, the plant produces plenty of energy for growth, as well as replace the stored energy used during phase 1.  As the plant continues to grow, the leaves get older and less efficient at photosynthesis.  The plant also produces a seedhead, which means it is trying to produce seed instead of leaves.  This results in a decrease in the growth rate of the plant.


Figure 1. Three phases of plant growth

A simple way to increase the yield of a pasture is to concentrate on keeping your grasses in the phase 2 of plant growth.  That means to make sure you leave enough leaf area so the plants can capture plenty of sunlight.  But don’t let the plants go to a reproductive state, meaning they are producing seedheads.  Staying in phase 2 will improve yield, because that is the phase where the growth rate is the highest.

How do you accomplish that?  You have to have some type of rotational grazing program, where you control where the animals graze and how long they stay in the paddock.  If you find that the forage growth is getting ahead of you in the spring, then cut hay from some of the fields.  If you find forage growth is getting slow during the summer, you can do a better job preventing overgrazing.

There is no need to make rotational grazing extremely complicated.  The principle is controlling plant growth through where the animals graze.  This will ultimately improve yield, plant persistence, and the production of forage and beef on your farm.

Broomsedge indicates a larger problem

Not all weeds are created equal in terms of their impact on forage quality and pasture productivity. Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), a native warm-season perennial grass, is a weed with few, if any, positive attributes other than it slaps you in the face to say soil pH and fertility are likely waning.

Known as an indicator plant, broomsedge most often fills voids left bare by more desirable pasture species. Usually, a soil test of these pastures will reveal either a very low soil pH and/or deficient phosphorus levels.

It’s also possible that a low soil pH is inhibiting phosphorus uptake.

“Cattle will only eat broomsedge for a short time in early spring,” says Dirk Philipp, a forage research scientist with the University of Arkansas. “As such, maintaining adequate phosphorus fertility, soil pH, and having a good pasture management plan is needed to keep broomsedge at bay. The avoidance of overgrazing will help to eliminate or minimize broomsedge issues.”

Philipp also notes that allelopathic chemicals in broomsedge prevent other plants from germinating around them. This enhances its ability to compete with desirable forage species.

Preventing broomsedge from establishing is easier than trying to control it once it does appear. Other than spot spraying with glyphosate, which will also kill other desirable species, there are no good chemical options for broomsedge control.

Researching varieties pays dividends

While it may still be winter, the time to start thinking about spring planting is now. A part of that thinking and planning process is choosing adapted and high-performance forage varieties.

In The Ohio State University (OSU) Ohio Beef Cattle Letter, OSU Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator Christine Gelley discusses what to keep in mind when selecting future forage genetics for your farm or ranch.

Know the difference

Let’s begin with a quick review about the differences between species, varieties, and cultivars.

In plant terms, a species is a plant that is distinctly different from other plants in features and characteristics, meaning that other plants of the same species will share similar characteristics. For example, think red clover versus ladino clover; both are clovers, but two distinctly different species.

A variety is a variation of a plant characteristic that still falls within the range of characteristics of a species. “Think of varieties as species variations that occur in nature without human interaction,” Gelley explains.

While varieties are naturally occurring, humans select for cultivars. These cultivars often bear a trade name that is marketed by the seed company. In spite of the difference between a variety and a cultivar, it remains a common practice for a cultivar to be referred to as a variety.

“By the time you are ready to shop for seed, have your species selected and a few potential cultivars on your list of acceptable choices,” Gelley advises.

Regional requirements

To narrow down your choices even further, look at results of regionally conducted forage variety tests. “If you are farming in Ohio and shopping based on variety performance trials conducted in Tennessee, you may end up unsatisfied with your results,” Gelley explains.

Pay attention to variables in the trial, including total rainfall, soil and air temperatures, soil type, fertilizer and pesticide applications, and the number of years evaluated. Trials that were conducted over the span of several years are typically more trustworthy.

Also consider who is conducting the trials. Many land-grant universities conduct forage trials and are unbiased. Performance trials by seed companies can be reliable, but keep in mind that they are trying to get you to buy their product instead of a competitor’s.

Know the supplier

Once you have a short list of varieties that will fit your farm and needs, shop with a reputable supplier. They should have clean facilities, knowledgeable staff, and good customer service.

“Contact the seed dealer with your cultivar list and have a conversation about what you are looking for and what they can offer,” Gelley recommends. She also advises looking at the seed tags and comparing production dates, germination rates, and the percentage of pure live seed.

“For your best chance at success, do your research before you shop, rather than settling for whatever is in stock at the local co-op,” Gelley says.

Keep records

After selecting, purchasing, and planting your cultivar, keep note of observations you make throughout the year. This includes seeding date, planting rate and depth, weather conditions, germination success or failure, weed pressure, and animal preference.

Perform your own experiment

“If you can’t decide between one cultivar and another, get more than one and start your own on-farm research project,” Gelley suggests.

Plant the cultivars in the same location under similar conditions. As you go through their production cycle, apply the same inputs and harvest the same way all while taking notes and making observations. The results may surprise you.