May 25, 2023 at 4:16 p.m.
High-quality forages at center of Abel Dairy Farms’ feeding program
What forages do you harvest? We harvest mostly HarvXtra alfalfa and mostly brown midrib corn silage as well as some oatlage from new seeding for dry cows.
How many acres of crops do you raise? We raise 1,800 acres of corn silage and buy another 1,700 acres from local growers. We also raise about 1,200 acres of alfalfa and buy another 300 acres from local growers.
What quality and quantity do you harvest of each crop? We typically harvest about 6,000 ton/dry matter of haylage that tests between 165-180 RFQ. We harvest about 75,000 tons of BMR corn silage that test about 33%-37% starch.
Describe the rations for your livestock. We feed milk cows and dry cows at our dairy, and we try to feed rations that are relatively high in high-quality forages, containing 60% to 65% forages. The ration is mostly comprised of corn silage, alfalfa haylage, wheat straw, fine ground corn, soybean meal, corn gluten feed and cottonseed. Dry cows are fed oatlage, corn silage and wheat straw.
Describe your harvesting techniques for alfalfa and corn silage. We have our own equipment but also have a local custom harvester help us with harvesting both haylage and corn silage. We run a New Holland chopper while he runs a John Deere. Haylage is cut on approximately 28-day intervals with triple mowers with flail conditioners. Once it is dry enough (40% dry matter), it is merged and chopped into trucks. Corn silage is chopped at about 35% dry matter and processed. High-quality inoculants are a must.
What techniques do you use to store, manage and feed your forages? Our corn silage is stored on one large drive-over pile using a Lactobacillus buchneri inoculant. We emphasize packing density and covering quickly. Haylage is stored in large bunker silos with an inoculant. The walls are wrapped, and it is covered immediately after filling. The plastic is cut daily, and the forage is faced with a silage rake.
Throughout your career, have you changed the forages you plant, and how has that decision helped your operation? We have changed from conventional silage to BMR corn silage. Haylage has all been transitioned to HarvXtra. This has allowed us more flexibility in our harvest window while increasing RFQ. We used to plant and feed some winter rye, but we were not able to consistently make high-quality dairy forage from it.
Describe a challenge you overcame in reaching your forage quality goals. It was taking too long to harvest our haylage with our conventional sickle mowers, and we had too much variability in our moistures. We invested in a triple mower and shortened up the time our hay laid on the ground. This improved consistency and helped us eliminate any butyric acid in our bunkers.
How do quality forages play a part in the production goals for your herd? You can’t get high production out of low-quality forages. Every forage we feed needs to be very high quality. We will not sacrifice on quality during harvesting our forages or feeding it to our cows.
What are management or harvesting techniques you have changed that have made a notable difference in forage quality? We needed to make the conscious decision that we would only harvest the best quality forages. If the quality is not perfect, we will not put it in the bunker. We purchased a large hay tedder so we could better control the moisture of the haylage we were chopping. We also put an emphasis on kernel processing of our corn silage. We pull samples for kernel process scoring daily during harvest to ensure we are doing a good job.
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