February 26, 2022 at 12:57 a.m.
Harvesting Quality Forages

Putting away forages quickly key for Grubers 

Bob Gruber stands in his freestall barn Feb. 17 on his 220-cow dairy near Lastrup, Minnesota. Gruber operates the farm with his wife, Kaylie. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE
Bob Gruber stands in his freestall barn Feb. 17 on his 220-cow dairy near Lastrup, Minnesota. Gruber operates the farm with his wife, Kaylie. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

Bob and Kaylie Gruber
Lastrup, Minnesota
220 cows
Describe your farm and facilities. We milk 220 cows in a flat-barn parlor. The cows are housed in a free stall barn with sand-bedded free stalls. All heifers are kept for replacements in a separate bedded pack barn. Bull calves are sold weekly.

List the forages you harvest. We raise haylage and corn silage.

How many acres of each do you raise? We raise 200 acres of corn, 250 acres of haylage, and the rest is grass.

What quality and quantity do you harvest of each crop? We try to get 20-25 tons of wet silage per acre with over 7% protein and over 35% starch. We try to get 5-8 dry tons of haylage with 150 relative feed value or greater and over 20% protein.

Describe your harvesting techniques for alfalfa and corn silage. What I look for is a good weather window that coordinates with a time frame that works for a harvest crew. We get help from family, but it takes a little while to line them up. As soon as I see that window, we move fast to get the hay knocked down, but there’s a lot of variables that come into play including humidity, wind speed and topsoil moisture that determine row width. But nine times out of 10, we’re shooting for a very wide windrow for quick dry down. When we get close to harvest moisture, we merge the rows together to keep the chopper full and hopefully remove the crop off the field as swiftly as possible. Our corn silage harvest is the same thing. It mainly revolves around weather and help. When we do hay, we have four guys in tractors with boxes, one on the merger and one on the chopper and sometimes one cutting more hay and one standing by the bagger.

What are management or harvesting techniques you have changed that has made a notable difference in forage quality? We are seeding alfalfa at a higher density. We usually shoot for 20-24 pounds an acre for seed. We are also chopping corn silage higher to leave more core stock behind in the field and have added a kernel processor. All the things we have done have helped create higher energy and more digestible feed.

Describe a challenge you overcame in reaching your forage quality goals. Getting feed put up fast is always a challenge because there are so many things that have to happen; many machines and people running at once, we’re always trying to improve our efficiencies by investing in better harvest equipment to help get the job done fast.

Describe the techniques you use to store, manage and feed your forages. We store all our feed in bags. We mark field changes and moisture changes on the sides of the bags. When we are feeding, we know what is coming and can make changes accordingly. Our haylage has the most variability so I always feed from two haylage bags. If one changes abruptly, it keeps the ration somewhat constant. We did 10.5 10-by-250 bags of silage and seven 10-by-250 bags of haylage.

Describe the rations for your livestock. Milk cows are fed two rations. One side of the barn consists of fresher cows, and the other side consists of longer-day bred cows. The fresher cows ration is dominated by haylage while the longer-day cows are getting higher silage. Dry cows receive some silage, dry corn and bypass protein with all the grass hay they can eat. The heifers get grass silage and lower quality haylage, all to get good height by 23 months while avoiding over conditioning.

What part does quality forages play in the production goals for your herd? Higher quality forages results in two things, more energy and protein per pound of ration fed and higher feed intake. Both of them result in more milk with lower feed cost so it could be the difference in being profitable or not.


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