Cows and Crops, November 2016


In this issue:

Alternative Summer Annuals

Is there something other than corn silage?

Rick Kersbergen

For many of you this year’s drought severely impacted your forage yields of both perennial crops as well as your corn silage yields. While this year may have been an aberration, it is always a good idea to plan try and diversify your forage resources to insure against poor growing conditions.

Many of you have started growing cover crops after your corn comes off in the fall and it makes me smile to see green fields on October. Not only are you protecting from erosion, capturing nutrients and saving on next year’s fertilizer bill, but you are also growing a crop you could potentially harvest next May. The benefits of cover cropping go beyond that as well, by improving soil health and soil moisture management.

This past summer, we grew some other warm season annuals at Maine Farm days to demonstrate some alternatives. These included BMR Sorghum Sudan, BMR forage Sorghum and BMR Pearl Millet. All these crops have the potential to produce well under dry and hot conditions, and yield a very digestible crop for making milk, as they contain the BMR gene to improve digestibility. Sorghum for silage is not new….it has been around for years.

Kersbergen with sorghumMany of you have done BMR Sorghum Sudan grass in the past (I heard the moans when you read this…) and have cut it several times during the season. The issue has always been…how can you dry such a wet crop so it can be chopped or baled for fermentation. Recently, some work has been done by letting the crop mature, and doing a one-harvest system in the fall. This would require a “Kemper” type head to chop the crop directly. Our research this summer yielded about 30 tons of 22% dry matter feed in mid September. As you can see in the picture, it was quite tall.

The other benefit of this crop is that no herbicides were used, making it a cheaper crop to grow and a great alternative for organic producers.

sorghumThe other crop that we grew (sown in early June) was BMR Forage Sorghum. This is another warm season crop. We grew two types…the normal BMR forage Sorghum and a Dwarf BMR brachytic type. The dwarf brachytic is shorter, but the internodes (distances between leaves) is much less, so the plant has a high leaf to stem ratio. We tried growing this crop similar to corn silage…in 30 inch rows and sown at about 5-7 pounds per acre. We also compared this to a normal BMR forage sorghum that was sown in narrow rows and at a rate of about 25 pounds per acre. In the picture below, you can see the difference in the two crops. As you can see, the dwarf variety (on the left) lived up to its name; a section of the test plot was harvested in September and yielded about 17 tons per acre of 24% dry matter feed; another section of the test plot was harvested in October and yielded 18 tons of 30.1% dry matter forage that tested at 176 relative feed value (RFV). This could be directly chopped just like corn. The regular forage sorghum yielded higher, but again would need a “Kemper” type head on your chopper. It would be difficult to mow that crop as it is about 9 ft tall at a fall harvest.

Some cautions….the dwarf variety is slow to germinate and get started, so it has some issues with weeds if you don’t use a herbicide. The regular BMR forage sorghum grown in narrow rows is an excellent competitor and would be suited for organic production.

One organic producer in Maine grew about 90 acres of BMR forage sorghum this year as an alternative to corn silage. The crop was sown in early July and harvested in late September. Since it was sown in July, it was not as tall as the crop we grew and he was able to use his mower to harvest the crop and let it wilt in the field. Yields were high (> 30 tons per acre of 23% dry matter).

I will be talking about these crops as alternatives this winter at growers meetings. If you have questions and want to talk more about specifics and feed analysis, please give me a call or send me an email.  207-342-5971

Corn Silage Trials 2016

Misty Meadows Farm

Caragh Fitzgerald and Rick Kersbergen

Many of you will be ordering your corn seed in the next few weeks for 2017, as dealers like to get their orders in before the holiday season. Normally, my co-worker Caragh Fitzgerald and I would be sending out the results of the corn silage variety trial to help you make your decisions. Unfortunately, this year we have a major problem. Many of the varieties suffered some early season herbicide injury. This impacted the certain varieties more than others, and we felt uncomfortable providing the data, since the injury was not consistent. We will be providing the data to the individual dealers for their submissions.

There were some interesting findings that reflect this year’s growing season as well as some quality parameters that you should discuss with whoever sells you seed! For the first time since we have been doing these trials, the dry matter of the corn at harvest (before a frost) was higher than the recommended level of 35% Dry matter. Obviously the dry summer was partially responsible, but we also have one of our highest Growing Degree summers we have ever experienced, allowing many of the varieties to mature.

Some results of note:

Average “wet” yield per acre (38.9% DM): 18.1 tons/acre

Average yield corrected to 35% DM: 23.4 tons/acre

As you compare varieties that you are considering for next year, the importance of quality along with yield should be part of the discussion. When you look at your forage analysis, you should pay close attention to the analysis that predicts the milk yield per ton of dry matter…because the variation between hybrids is huge and potential milk is what you are after…not just yield! We saw a big difference between hybrids, and when you add in yield, you can calculate milk per acre. Our results below show just how big a difference that can make.

Average Milk /ton DM: 3310lbs (High of 3670 to a low of 2680)

Average milk per acre: 23,253lbs (High of 30,594 to a low of 16,724)

The difference between the highest and lowest milk per acre variety would mean a difference in potential income of about $2,500 per acre in milk at $18/cwt!

Make sure you ask about quality when you choose your hybrids! Quality counts!

Maine Sign-up for Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program deadline Extended to Nov. 18

BANGOR, Maine — The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the application deadline extension date for the Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA).  The Fiscal Year 2017 application deadline for AMA has been extended to Nov. 18, 2016.

Agricultural producers are encouraged to sign up now for consideration in statewide funding pools for the AMA program, which assists them in voluntarily addressing issues such as water management and water quality. Eligible practices include irrigation systems and irrigation water supply wells. For 2017, NRCS will also continue to offer an opportunity for funding High Tunnel Systems through AMA.

There is a continuous, year-round sign-up for the program, but applications submitted by the deadline mentioned above will be considered for funding in Fiscal Year 2017.  Proposals submitted after that date will be held for the next period of funding consideration.

“Participation in the Agricultural Management Assistance program is completely voluntary and supports agricultural production and environmental quality in Maine,” said NRCS-Maine State Conservationist Juan Hernandez. “The deadline is approaching quickly, so we encourage you to contact your local USDA Service Center as soon as possible.”

For more information on AMA, please contact your local NRCS Service Center. Locations and contact information can be found on the Maine NRCS website, along with more information about the programs and services NRCS provides.


How Much Milk Will Your Forage Support?

By Gary Anderson

Last month I looked at how to determine how much forage inventory you need to support your cows through the coming year. I have talked with people who are searching for feed and some have been looking in the Midwest. The quality of the feed available there is excellent, the quantity limited and the transportation costs can be high. Costs I have seen are $3 per loaded mile. So a truck that is loaded to maximum weight carrying baleage will have a different cost per lb of dry matter than the same truck loaded with high quality hay.  The wetter baleage will increase the cost per lb of dry matter delivered. The Midwest and upper Midwest had above average moisture this year so forage available from those regions can be very high quality.

This month I want to look at how forage quality impacts your purchased grain costs. So, last month you figured how much forage you needed and did an inventory of the feeds on hand. If you were short of feed on hand, I hope that you have secured enough feed to get you through until fresh feed is available next year. Based on your inventory, size of your silos, and animal needs you have a good idea of how much of each forage you can/have to feed each day to keep feed fresh and not spoil.

Typically, each farm will put together a base forage ration that is then customized to each group of cows/cow being fed. The ratio of feeds in that base ration usually are based on the amount of feed on hand and how much you can/have to feed to keep feed fresh.  A typical ration in Maine is 50% corn silage and 50% grass or legume silage. More on this later.

If I look at the requirements for a high producing dairy cow, I can get an idea of the ratio of forages I need to balance a ration effectively. If I look at a Holstein cow weighing 1400 lbs and producing 80 lbs of 3.8% fat milk, I can generate some nutrient requirements. The most important of these is dry matter intake; the higher the intake we can get, the more nutrients that are eaten to support maintenance, growth and production. Second among the nutrients is energy and I view this as the limiting nutrient for production. Energy is determined by the fiber content and so fiber is equally important in putting together an optimum ration. There are several different types of fiber to evaluate when balancing a ration and that is beyond this article so I am going to concentrate on dry matter intake and energy.

Cows have a requirement for so many megacalories of energy and so many grams of protein.  Every computer program calculates requirements from a prediction equation and numbers can vary from one program to another. If I go to a simple prediction, let’s say that the dry matter intake of the cow in the paragraph above is 50 lbs and the energy requirement for maintenance, growth and production is 36.2 Mcals Net Energy Lactation.

If I had average corn silage (.72 mcal NEl/lb) and low quality mostly grass silage (.52 mcal NEl/lb) with enough inventory to feed a 50:50 ratio of the two forages on a dry matter basis, the calculated energy density of that mix would be .62 mcal NEl/lb. If you can get your forage base to be in the 12-14% protein range and the mcal NEl/lb over .65, you can make some nice rations maximizing forage and minimizing purchased feed cost. We can use Pearson Square to determine the forage:grain ratio that will give us a ballpark figure to see if we can put together a healthy ration.

We start by calculating the energy that is required in the ration by taking the mcal energy required (36.2 mcal NEl) divided by the 50 lbs of dry matter intake giving us an energy density of .73 mcal NEl/lb dry matter.  We can assume that the energy of a grain mix is .84 mcal NEl/lb. We can set up Pearson Square like the diagram below. We subtract the numbers on the diagonals and then look at the percentages of the total (ie. .84 – .73 = .11 and .62 – .73 =.11 The subtraction is always positive). Next add .11 and .11 to equal .22;  .11/.22 = .50 or 50% forage and the grain is the remainder  or 100 minus 50 or 50%.  So mixing 50% of the ration as forage and 50% as grain will give us the energy density we desire.  The question is … Is this a healthy ration?  Using thumbrules, we would like to feed no less than 40% forage so this ration passes that test.  This ration would end up feeding about 28 lbs of grain for 80 lbs of milk or 1 lb of grain to 2.85 lbs of milk.  If energy of forages were higher or we used a different ratio of forages, we may be able to put together a ration with less grain.

The actual ration can be quickly formulated by your nutritionist using their computer, but I wanted to give you some background in some of the calculations and evaluation factors in determining how forage quality impacts your bottom line. While I used a mix of high energy corn silage with the grass silage in the first example, if you only had the grass silage, Pearson Square (see diagram below) would show that you would need to feed 34% forage and 66% grain to get the energy required. This ratio violates our thumbrule above, but may still work if the ration meets fiber requirements. In any event, the ration with the lower quality forage is much more expensive.

Balancing the complete ration is more complex that I have explained here. This is just a back of the envelope calculation to plan how your forage resources can be best used. A nutritionist will work to maximize forage use, reduce feed costs and monitor all of the nutrients provided with requirements.  They will also monitor the ration to make sure that you do not exceed gut fill ensuring that cows can eat the ration formulated.  Take some time to evaluate your forage inventory and analyses (ie. Quality and quantity) to plan for the year ahead and get the appropriate feedstuffs to the right cows.