High-testing alfalfa haylage for the win
Mark takes first in Forage Superbowl
Todd Mark milks 130 cows near Elmwood, Wisconsin. Mark recently claimed Grand Champion Alfalfa Haylage at the World Forage Analysis Superbowl presented at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
ELMWOOD, Wis. – Growing top-quality forages is something that Todd Mark takes great pride in, saying that it is the foundation on which a profitable herd is built. That focus on forage quality led Mark’s entry into the World Forage Analysis Superbowl to rise to the top of the heap, as the Grand Champion Alfalfa Haylage, the first time he had ever entered.
Mark, along with his wife, Billy Jo, operates Mark-Ridge Farm, where they milk 130 cows near Elmwood, with their son, Bryce, who is still on the farm while in high school, and their grown children, Jordyn, Cole and Natalie.
The primarily Holstein herd eats a TMR diet that consists of haylage, corn silage and commodities, along with some barlage fed over the summer months. They run a rolling herd average over 30,500 pounds of milk consistently.
Mark said he has had good luck with production, keeping his ration in the range of a balance of one-third corn silage to two-thirds haylage, or vice versa depending on his inventory.
“Anywhere in that range seems to work well from my experience,” Mark said. “It all depends on the year and what is available.”
“Quality is free, it doesn’t cost any more to get quality,” Mark said. “It costs the same to make poor quality forage as it does high quality. The equipment, the labor, all the costs are the same; so you might as well put in the effort to do it right.”
For Mark, doing it right means being meticulous about harvesting his hay crops. He farms about 280 acres of land, which he estimates includes about 90 acres of hay ground, 30 acres of which is typically new seeding.
“I make all my own hay. It might take me a bit longer, but it is done on my schedule,” Mark said, explaining that he makes his hay in smaller chunks, rather than knocking down large numbers of acreage at once, helping decrease the possibility of cut hay being rained on before it is chopped.
“I don’t have enough help to do everything at once, so I do it in manageable bits,” Mark said.
Mark said he prefers to use a haybine to cut his hay, rather than a discbine, cutting one day and chopping the next.
“I don’t have hundreds of acres to cover, so using the haybine works for me, I can drop about seven acres an hour,” Mark said. “It helps keeps the ash and dirt out of the hay.”
Depending on the weather, Mark typically plans to make hay at the end of the month for May, June, July and August. He tries not to make any hay in September or later. All of his forages are stored in bags.
The source of the winning haylage turned out to be a little bit of a surprise for Mark: it came from the second cutting off a fourth-year field that is going to be turned under in his crop rotation this fall, that he estimated produced about 80 tons of feed.
“The seed came from Legacy Seeds, and it wasn’t something I normally use,” Mark said. “That field was seeded following a year of really bad winterkill. Seed was hard to find and I had to get creative and try some different things.”
That something different paid off in the end. After pulling some initial samples, Mark said his nutritionist was pretty excited by what he found, and he encouraged and helped Mark enter the contest.
The winning forage sample tested at 306 for relative feed quality and was 24.78% crude protein; 21.81% ADF and 35.75% NDF; while testing at 3,837 pounds of milk per ton.
Overall, Mark said he was very pleased with how his hay crop turned out this summer and feels it places him in a good position heading into the long Wisconsin winter.
“We had a lot of samples come out over 200 relative feed value this year, in several different bags,” Mark said. “There were several that tested between 210 and 230.”
Mark said that while not far from his farm, many people were faced with extremely dry conditions, he was lucky enough to get what was needed for precipitation, when the crops needed it.
While this particular variety was a standard variety, typically when he is evaluating forage analyses, Mark said he looks for low-lignin varieties, which he prefers for the higher digestibility, along with energy and protein.
“To me, that correlates with more milk,” Mark said.
When he received the email informing him of the results of the World Forage Analysis Superbowl, he was astounded. He was able to take a day away from the farm to make the trip to World Dairy Expo for the awards presentation, and expressed his gratitude to Ag-Bag by RFC for sponsoring the alfalfa haylage class. He went home with thoughts of testing more samples next fall to become a second-time entrant.
“It was really nice to spend the day at Expo, there is so much there to see and do,” Mark said. “And it was neat to see and hear about all the entries in the contest. It is pretty amazing to realize that mine came out on top.”