September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Brian and Judy Hazel hosted the Southeast Minnesota Forage Council and Minnesota Forage Association Summer Field Day at their dairy farm, Haz-Broy Farms in Lanesboro, Minn. One portion of the evening event on July 18 was Jim Paulson, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, talking about emergency feeding options. Along with his presentation was a producer panel with Brian Hazel and Rick Alberts from Pine Shelter Farms near Pine Island, Minn.
"This year we'll really have to know what our forages are doing," Paulson said. "Money spent on forage analysis is money well spent."
Many farmers in the area were hit by alfalfa winter kill or experienced trouble getting into the field because of a wet spring, forcing them to take prevented planting acres or seed in another crop.
Paulson suggested farmers assess what forages they have and said sorghum-Sudan grass is a good supplement to use in rations.
"I'm becoming a big believer in BMR sorghum-Sudan," Paulson said. "It really likes warm weather, which is why we don't plant it as early. Sorghum-Sudan will respond a lot to fertility."
Hazel and Alberts were both able to share their farms' stories with forages and crops. About half of Hazel's 200 acres of alfalfa were affected by winter kill. He replaced those 100 acres with no-till corn.
"We were able to get into the field quicker because we didn't turn it," Hazel said.
Luckily, Hazel had extra haylage from last year that he is feeding. He has also added wheat straw and corn gluten pellets into his ration.
"It's worked well and the cows didn't lose milk doing it," he said.
Many of the heifers are out on pasture.
"We took the cattle out of the pastures too late in the fall, which was a mistake, but we're still learning," Hazel said with a laugh.
Along with the lost alfalfa acres, Hazel also had to put 125 acres into prevented planting. On those acres he has planted a radish and annual rye mix, but he's not looking to get a crop because of the Nov. 1 cut date. To prevent those fields from being excessively wet in the future, Hazel plans to put in a few waterways.
Alberts's family lost nearly all 400 acres of their alfalfa to winter kill. Fortunately, they also had a good crop from last year and have about a three months' supply of haylage left.
"We've increased the corn silage to stretch out the alfalfa as much as we can," Alberts said.
This year the family put in a lot of new seeding of alfalfa, which Alberts said is growing well.
"I'm not a fan of trying to salvage alfalfa because of the toxins," Alberts said. "This year was not a hard decision (not to keep the alfalfa)."
Along with the alfalfa, the Albertses have also seeded in barley, oats and sorghum-Sudan. They now have oatlage and barley silage to feed along with wrapped balage from last year.
The Albertses are prepared for feeding a higher corn silage ration.
"We'll do whatever it takes with our nutritionist to make it work," Alberts said. "We just want to make sure everything is dairy quality."
The Alberts family didn't have to take many prevented planting acres, but the ones that did were later tiled.
"We put in oats as a cover crop to keep the weeds under control," Alberts said.
Following the producer panel, there was a question asked about cover crops. Paulson said about 15 percent of farms in Minnesota put cover crops on less than 20 percent of their acres.
Hazel said he's used cover crops for a few years, including fall tillage radishes and oats. Although he used to put in winter rye, he no longer plants it on his fields.
"I just don't have the time to deal with it in the spring," Hazel said. "I'm going to continue experimenting with tillage radishes and oats."
For the forages we do get from the field, Paulson reminded farmers of practices that will help them last longer.
"Inoculants will help, but you need to watch the moisture. If it's too dry it will lose all the advantages," Paulson said.
The size of piles, bunkers and bags is important, too. Paulson said usually six inches should be taken off each time.
"Too often our faces on our piles, bunkers and bags are way too big," Paulson said.
Packing the forages tight into storage is also important to keep it from spoiling.
"Forages are going to be expensive and tight," Paulson said. "Let's do the things we need to in order to save every dollar."
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