Growing Concern in the Dairy Industry Regarding Forage Inventory
There is growing concern in the dairy industry about forage inventory. Specifically, the lack of high-quality forage. Thankfully, there are options that can stretch forage inventory and allow for lower quality forages to be used without negatively impacting milk yields. This is good news for the dairy industry already dealing with poor economic conditions.
There are a variety of options when it comes to managing forage inventories. The first is to determine if it is possible to raise feeding rates without depleting supplies before the new forage crop is harvested. Doing so will allow dairy farmers to increase the corn silage feeding-rate and reduce concentration of low-quality forage. When changing the feeding rate, as much as possible try to keep the concentration of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) around 20 percent of dry matter.
Supplements should also be considered to balance out any changes in forage. Since alfalfa and rye contain more protein than corn silage, it is a good idea to increase either potassium or sodium buffers, or both, through supplements. While this will not completely negate the impact of low-quality forage, it may make it less pronounced. Keep in mind that the concentration of NDF will still need to be below 20 percent of the dietary DM.
The percentage of forage in a diet will be less since mature forages have higher NDF concentrations. This can lead to concerns when it comes to milkfat yields. Thankfully, it isn’t total fiber but the amount of forage fiber that is important when it comes to milkfat.
Try to keep the concentrations of dietary starch to about 25% when corn is used to replace forage. If starch concentration becomes an issue, forage can be replaced with things like wheat midds, soyhulls or some types of grains. You also could consider replacing forage with whole cottonseed. Whole cottonseed has an NDF concentration similar to alfalfa.
In the end, the key is to limit forage fiber in the diet when low-quality forage is being fed since lower quality forages are higher in fiber. This results in diets that have more concentrate than normal, increasing ration costs. Of course, too much low-quality forage also will reduce milk yields which is the worst possible scenario.