November 29, 2021 at 8:05 p.m.
Harvesting Quality Forages

Dry hay key component in ration for Swartz

Tristan Swartz feeds dry hay to his milking cows at his dairy near Gilman, Wisconsin. The hay consists of timothy, red clover and minimal alfalfa.  PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
Tristan Swartz feeds dry hay to his milking cows at his dairy near Gilman, Wisconsin. The hay consists of timothy, red clover and minimal alfalfa. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN

Tristan Swartz
Gilman, Wisconsin
Taylor County
50 cows

Describe your farm and facilities. We farm in a swamp west of Gilman, Wisconsin, where we walk on water nine months a year. We milk cows and raise Berkshire hogs. The cows are milked in a tiestall barn. During the summer, we rotational graze a rye grass, meadow fescue, festolium, timothy, ladino clover and red clover pasture. We are able to raise 100% of our feed for both the cows and hogs.

What forages do you harvest? We harvest a wide variety of crops so we can do what is best suited for each field. Our hay consists of timothy, red clover and minimal alfalfa for dry baling; timothy, perennial rye grass, ladino and red clover and meadow fescue for balage and some dry hay; straight timothy for dry hay; open pollinated corn for silage; oat and clover for balage; and we make a mix of soybean, corn, oat, pea, timothy, Sudan and rape that we plant after the oats and chop for the silo.

How many acres of crops do you raise? We cover about 600 acres for ourselves and custom run around 800 to 1,000 more.

Describe the rations for your livestock. Our dairy cows get pasture, first crop balage, first crop dry hay, corn silage and high-moisture cob corn in the summers. In the winter, they get third, fourth and fifth crop balage; the soybean mix haylage; corn silage; high-moisture cob corn; and second, third and fourth crop dry bales. All corn and protein is top dressed according to the cow’s individual needs. We are big fans of feeding copious amounts of unprocessed dry hay for cow health. The dry cows get first and second crop balage; first and second crop dry hay; with corn silage. The youngstock get second crop balage; second crop dry hay; corn silage and ground cob corn. Fresh cows get all the high-quality dry hay they will eat and are gently brought in to the milk cow ration. If a cow is off in anyway, dry hay seems to be the cure all.

What quality and quantity do you harvest of each crop? We put up, on average, around 1,800 large rounds of both dry hay and balage, and more small square bales than anyone cares to admit and my back can take. We fill a 20-by-70 silo with corn silage and a large bunker. We are hoping to do away with the bunker and add two more silos next year.

Describe your harvesting techniques for alfalfa and corn silage. We cut our hay at 18- to 25-day schedules, depending on the weather, with a discbine in the evenings and at night when the dew is on to minimize ash from the mower lifting dust. We rake in the morning, right after the dew and bale in the late afternoon and evenings, and wrap in the middle of the night so the bales stay cool before they are wrapped. We run a set of rolabar double rakes for the dry hay and balage and, at times, a merger for the balage. For round bales, we use a silage special and crop cutter baler with net wrap and a small square baler with bale baskets. On our corn, we chop and kernel process the silage at around 65% and have made a cob saver sieve for the combine so we are able to retain around 75% to 85% of the cob at 35% moisture for the dairy cows and 18%-20% for the calves and hogs, all of which is either grinder-bagged or ground and blown up a silo.

What techniques do you use to store, manage and feed your forages? We use wrapped wet and dry rounds; hay lofts for small squares; tarped stacks and lines for dry rounds; silos and bunkers for silage; and bags or silos for the high-moisture corn. We don’t have a TMR or mixer so we do not weigh our feed, but we are on the “feed more until they leave some” program. The silage, haylage and dry hay is fed in the barn, and we hand-fill H bunks in the lot for balage if weather allows in the winter. If it is bad weather, we hand feed the baleage in the barn.

Describe a challenge you overcame in reaching your forage quality goals. Our main challenge we overcame was input costs. By deciding to raise what our land raises best instead of trying to make it raise something else, like straight alfalfa, we are able to keep costs low while raising a more digestible crop. We also had quality issues with inclement weather so we keep up on our maintenance on our 40-year-old equipment so when it is fit we can run 24 hours a day until it is done. It is amazing how cost-efficient and productive a person can be with simple, easy-to-work-on machines, parts machinery and no sleep until it rains.

How does quality forages play a part in the production goals for your herd? Quality forages keep my concentrate and vet bills low, but high milk production does not always mean more profit. By putting up high-quality feed, the cows enjoy eating. We keep intakes high while retaining excellent cow heath and breeding. We feed a 2:1 mineral, selenium salt, bicarb, small amount of urea and around 4 pounds of a protein mix. The rest of the cows’ needs comes from high-quality dry hay. Our cows are our family so we do not push them but instead, let them do their thing. Cows love high-quality, young, dry hay so after they fill up with their other forages, we toss them as much of that square baled candy as they want. By feeding less processed feeds and additives, our cattle thrive. We do our own nutrition work simply by watching the manure and cows’ mannerisms and adjust what they consume by stage of lactation. By component feeding, we are able to maximize a cow’s potential without sacrificing health and breeding, or wasting feed.

What are management or harvesting techniques you have changed that have made a notable difference in forage quality? We have found by mowing in the evening and nights, the hay cures instead of being sun cooked. We also round bale with dew or cool night air to save leaves. Mowing the grasses and clovers at earlier intervals causes it to tiller more and to come back thicker and finer stemmed. We only use commercial fertilizer on first-year seeding. After that, we use liquid manure spread after second cutting. We put bedding pack on land the fall before new seeding to increase organic material.


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