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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

What Are Your Feed Management Plans This Year?

Dairy Pipeline: November 2007

Bob James
Extension Dairy Scientist, Dairy Nutrition
(540) 231-4770;

The dry 2007 growing season along with the impact of ethanol on corn markets has created some interesting challenges in feeding dairy cattle and heifers. Forage is in short supply. In many areas of the state, timely rains allowed the ears to set but stalks were short keeping dry matter yield per acre low. However, this means that although yields are low, energy content is high. In other cases rapid dry down resulted in drier corn silage at risk for mycotoxin contamination. Hay crops are in very short supply as the lack of rain during the summer eliminated or severely reduced yields on 2nd and subsequent cuttings. In addition, pasture forage is severely depleted. The short forage supply coupled with higher prices for corn and soybean meal begs the question: What’s a manager to do?

It’s important to approach these challenges early and methodically. Using the following steps early on will allow managers the flexibility to make wise and economical decisions.

1. Thoroughly inventory all forages on hand.

a. Silage inventory can be estimated using the SILOCAP Excel spreadsheet at the VTDAIRY web site This will enable an estimation of quantity of silage available in upright or horizontal silos or in bags on a dry matter or as fed basis.

b. Obtain analyses of all forages to determine quality.

2. Allocate forages where they will do the most good. Highest quality forages go to early lactation, high producing cows and young heifer calves. These animals require more nutrient density in their diets to achieve high milk production, good health and good growth. Consider grouping milking cows so that forage utilization can be more effectively managed.

3. Project needs based upon proposed rations by multiplying daily forages used/animal by animal numbers to determine how long the forage will last. Don’t forget allowances for spoilage which can vary from lows of 5% to as much as 50% of round bales stored outside.

If a shortage of forage is evident, take action now to plan your strategies. Forage prices will only increase until the next harvest in spring.

►Seek locally produced forages or fiber sources first to reduce freight charges. However, in many cases, local forage supplies will be depleted or quality may not be adequate for early lactation, high producing cows. Consider purchase of higher quality western alfalfa hay for these animals.

►Be innovative in securing fiber sources for later lactation cows, dry cows and bred heifers. Corn stover, cotton gin trash, and poorer quality hay can be effectively used in rations for animals with lower nutrient needs.

►Consider use of byproducts of the food industry to supplement needed nutrients at low cost. When evaluating byproducts, seek assurances that they contain no harmful residues and determine how long they can be stored before quality deteriorates to unacceptable levels. A good example of an economical low cost ingredient might be Okara, a soy beverage residue produced in Mt. Crawford, VA.

►Reduce shrink. Train feeding personnel to load mix wagons without spilling excessive forage. Don’t overload mix wagons. Fix or repair feed bunks to reduce losses on the feed bunk. Reducing shrink by 5% on 2,000 tons of corn silage equals 100 tons less corn silage to purchase.

►Cull marginal animals or sell surplus dairy heifers. Springing Holstein heifers are currently bringing over $2,000 each in most mid-Atlantic and southeastern states!

►Make plans for harvest of small grain silages such as rye for forage rather than spraying with herbicides.

Remember that milk prices are at record highs! Don’t get too cheap with feeding programs for the high producing milk cows and young heifers. What matters most is income remaining after feed costs are paid! If you save $.40/cow in daily feed costs and production drops by more than two lb. of milk/cow, that’s a net loss when milk prices exceed $20/cwt!


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