By: Jim Peck, (previously published by Drovers online)
Climate change or weather cycles drive nutrition at the farm level. This year’s spring was wetter than usual causing crop planting dates to be from on the early side to very late depending on where you farm. Often the weather extremes have been in the same area, or even on the same farm.
The results have been corn crops and even hay crops with a wide range of maturity, quality and yield. Some fields simply did not get planted. Many farms planted what they could, when they could resulting in an extended planting season. They changed from their preferred varieties to whatever was available and planted under less than good soil conditions. Now we will have an extended harvest season of whatever crop we have, whenever it can be harvested and whatever the feeding value will be.
I have often said that the entire feeding season and ration program is determined by when the corn planter goes to the field.
That is the case this year.
Now what do we do?
First, remember the past. In most areas, the weather extreme did not set an all-time record; some time in the past it had been worse. We have been spoiled by planting the corn crop with in a couple of weeks, scheduling chopping corn and haylage by the calendar, and covering the bunk only once when it was all done.
The first thing we need to do is to gear up for an “extended” harvest. With the range in planting dates and range of long to short season varieties, it will not all be ready at the same time. Corn planted in the normal planting window will mature on schedule. Corn planted in June will be later. Changes of varietal maturity will compensate for only part of the planting date.
The maturity range for most varieties is determined under normal growing conditions.
The corn plant matures differently during a late growing season. Keeping watch of your fields will be more important this year. Whole plant dry matter will be more important than ear maturity. Buy, locate, or borrow a stalk shredder, or be prepared to cut into a field with your chopper to check the status of the crop. The correct harvest dry matter will be determined by how you process your silage, the type of corn hybrid and kind of storage. It may take more than one run at harvest to get it done. Stuff that is too wet when it goes in will be a problem until fed out.
Managing the harvest equipment will be a challenge. Most of the corn silage today is “processed”. The setting of the rolls and other machine adjustments will need to be changed to match the maturity of the crop, grain moisture, and kernel characteristics. We are quite sure that the settings for corn planted in May will be different than for corn planted in June. What those settings should be is hard to predict, other than we want to see each kennel broken, but not smashed. It is likely to become a moving target.
There is considerable evidence that more mature haylage needs to be chopped slightly shorter than the good stuff, to reduce the rate of passage and facilitate digestion. It is the same for processing hay; the more mature hay should be processed shorter. One more thing to watch.
Being able to segregate the different forages in accessible storages will be important. Divided bunks and silage bags will become a part of a strategy to deal with different crop maturities and qualities. Corn for silage planted from early May to late June should not fit in one bunk of corn silage. Smaller, split bunks, separate piles, and silage bags may become part of the management solution. There may be some emergency crops planted which will need to be segregated to manage them into the diets.
Feeding will be a challenge
Managing the feed out and multiple diets will be more challenging. Allocating the best feeds to the high groups is the first priority. Plan those rations for as few changes as possible. Large heifers, low cow groups and early dry cow have a much wider range as to what is acceptable than the high producing groups, rapidly developing animals and transition cows. Closely matching animals, feeds and diets will become very important. Replacing feed straw with lower quality hay may solve a ration problem, but now all the weed seeds and seeds from mature grasses will pass through the cow in the manure and be spread all over the manured crop fields! (That’s next year’s problem)
Once the planting progress got to the end of May, it became obvious that fall would be a challenge. For most of us, we are there. There are still things we can do to reduce or mitigate the impact of the past season’s weather. It is not too early to start thinking and planning for the future. The big question is; is this year the new normal or just an aberration in the weather cycles. I think the prudent plan is to accept the concept that things are changing and we need to prepare for something different.