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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Forage quality is a challenge this spring

Dairy Pipeline: July 2003

Charles C. Stallings
Extension Dairy Scientist, Nutrition
(540) 231-4758

As I write this we are coming out of an extremely wet period setting records in many areas of the state for rainfall. The ability to harvest hay has been limited and what has been harvested has many times been rained on. Expect lower protein, higher fiber, and lower energy in what has been harvested. Delayed cutting will lead to more mature grasses and legumes lower in protein and energy. Also rain can lead to deterioration of material that is in the field due to leaching and leaf loss. In some cases corn for silage will have delayed planting dates making an early frost in the fall a concern. It is possible to ensile forages that typically would have been dried for hay. This reduces the time in the field after cutting and reduces the exposure to rain. Material can be ensiled in a bag or pile on the ground if no silo is available. Material above 30% dry matter but less than 50% would ensile best. If less than 30% dry matter, leaching occurs with a loss of nutrients. Also if dry matter is outside the desired range the fermentation is usually not ideal and cow palatability can be a problem. What about barley or wheat for silage? Typically we harvest at soft dough, direct cut but it can be earlier or later. Earlier will be wetter and later may result in grain that is hard and not digestible but still some feed is better than nothing. Lodging is a significant problem this year but most fields can still be harvested. Ration adjustments will be needed with the feeds we are producing this spring. Check the forage for dry matter, protein, fiber, and energy. Good luck and let's hope we have a better balance of weather the remainder of this growing season.

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