As we look to Thanksgiving next week, we reflect on the things we are thankful for. Some of you may have hit an ideal harvest window, but, for many, to say harvest is challenging would be an understatement. Hopefully, you can find a few silver linings amongst these obstacles.
    The difficulties of 2019 began this spring when corn planting for many happened several weeks later than ideal. Cooler summer temperatures resulted in lower growing degree days and delayed plant maturity. The biggest challenge this fall has been too wet of soil conditions with late-season rains before and during harvest. Corn silage chopping was a battle in most areas with the introduction of dump carts and safety pulls for many. The result was a harvest that took more time and expense, whether harvested by the dairy or a custom harvesting crew.
    Ideal forage dry matter is well-defined, but especially difficult to achieve this year. Waiting for fields to dry, later maturity and subsequent frost resulted in corn silage that, in some cases, was more than 10 points drier than ideal. The harvest challenges also led to unpredicted delays for some harvesting crews and further complicated harvest for some farms. Similarly, but to a lesser degree, we have seen harvest dry matter challenges with earlage and high moisture corn.
    Dry matter at harvest is the primary driver to successful fermentation. Harvest temperature is generally not a big consideration with fall corn harvest. However, some corn silage and more wet corn has been harvested in conditions at refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Under these conditions, fermentation is not going to happen until temperatures rise above freezing and beyond.
    Some of you may remember similar situations in 2009 when we also had a late harvest. I recall a client harvesting corn silage in November into bags that fed like fresh-chopped (unfermented) corn silage all winter. The following spring, bags gassed up as temperatures increased and delayed fermentation occurred. There was a period through the midst of the fermentation that we battled some heating and spoilage challenges.
    Due to the growing season challenges mentioned above, some farms were not able to harvest the tons of corn silage needed to satisfy their annual needs. In many situations, more acres were harvested to reach this goal. The result is a strain on feed inventories.
    Now is a great time to assess feed inventories. Small adjustments at this time of year can help stretch certain feedstuffs and avoid drastic changes closer to next year’s harvest. Purchasing substitute feeds in smaller quantities can help spread out this cost and may allow some market opportunities.
    Your feed strategies will vary depending on which feeds have been negatively impacted through harvest. If you have unfermented or partially fermented forages, consider feeding them during the winter months to avoid heating and spoilage issues next spring. If your high moisture corn was too dry, it is beneficial to reduce micron or particle size at feeding.
    Work with your nutritionist to determine which strategies make the most sense for your compromised feeds. Also, determine if alternative feeds or byproducts make sense for your situation. Your cows will appreciate any effort to provide the best quality options despite the difficult harvest season.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.