The Goal: Feed Less, Graze More

– Victor Shelton, NRCS State Agronomist/Grazing Specialist

I often talk about upcoming grazing conferences this time of year. Right now, meetings in person are scarce and perhaps rightly so. I still encourage you to continue learning whether it’s from watching YouTube videos, reading books or articles, or attending a virtual meeting or conference.

It is also the time of year when I start thinking more about finding a comfortable chair, a warm blanket and some good reading material — especially when the snow flurries start. Winter is a great time for me to catch up on reading after checking on livestock in the cold, as long as I don’t get too warm and nod off. But, that said, winter chores still must be done! I’m never mentally prepared for winter, but that won’t stop it from happening. What’s a perfect winter to me? It includes stockpiled forages lasting for as long as possible, dry or frozen ground and as little hay needed to be fed.

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Fall Grazing Thoughts

– Chris Penrose, Extension Educator, Morgan County (originally published in Farm and Dairy)

Well, the growing season may be over but the grazing season may not. My whole career I have heard many talking about how long the grazing rotation should be: maybe 14 days in the spring or 60 in late summer during dry weather. I have also heard the discussion over which is more of a management challenge. Over 30 years ago I heard someone say that the greatest challenge is the 150 plus day rotation during the winter months. That one took me a while to process but once I did, it made a lot of sense. Few have accomplished it and many have made it a long way.

Would placing water in strategic locations improve your pasture management?

 

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Making Corn Silage in Dry Conditions

Source: Bill Weiss, OSU

The primary goal of making corn silage is to preserve as many nutrients in the corn plant as possible, to produce a feed that is acceptable to cows, and to minimize any risks associated with feeding the silage.  The following are important considerations for making corn silage when growing conditions have been dry.

Chop at the correct dry matter concentration (Editor’s note: see accompanying article “Corn Silage Harvest Timing”). Drought-stressed corn plants are often much wetter than they appear, even if the lower plant leaves are brown and dried up.  Before starting chopping, sample some plants (cut at the same height as they will be with the harvester) and either analyze DM using a Koster tester or microwave or send to a commercial lab (turn-around time may be a few days if you send it to a lab).  If the plants are too wet, delay chopping until the desired plant DM is reached.  The plant may continue to accumulate DM (increase yield), and you will not suffer increased fermentation losses caused by ensiling corn that is too wet.

Use a proven inoculant.  When silage is worth upwards of $80/ton (35% DM) reducing shrink by 2 percentage units has a value of about $2/ton. Homolactic inoculants (these are the ‘standard silage inoculants’) produce lactic acid which reduces fermentation losses but sometimes can increase spoilage during feedout. The buchneri inoculants increase acetic acid which slightly increases fermentation losses but greatly reduce spoilage during feedout.  Severely drought-stressed corn can have a high concentration of sugars because the plant is not depositing starch into the kernels.  High sugar concentrations can increase spoilage at feed out because it is food source for yeasts and molds.  Use of a good (from a reputable company with research showing efficacy) buchneri inoculant may be especially cost-effective with drought-stressed corn.

Check for nitrates.  Drought-stressed corn plants can accumulate nitrates which are toxic (as in fatal) to ruminants.  Silage from drought-stressed fields should be tested before it is fed.  Ideally, corn plants should be sampled and assayed for nitrates prior to chopping (most labs offer very rapid turn-around times for a nitrate assay).  If values are high, raising the cutting height will reduce nitrate concentrations in the silage because the bottom of the stalk usually has the highest nitrate concentrations.  Because forage likely will be very limited this coming year, do not raise the cutting height unless necessary to reduce nitrate concentrations.  Nitrate concentrations are often reduced during silage fermentation so that high nitrates in fresh corn plants may end up as acceptable concentrations in the fermented corn silage.  Silage with more than 1.5% nitrate (0.35% nitrate-N) has a high risk of causing nitrate toxicity in cattle.  See the following University of Wisconsin-Extension fact sheet for more details on nitrate toxicity: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/forage/nitrate-poisoning-in-cattle-sheep-and-goats/

Chop at correct particle length.  Do not chop too finely so that the effective fiber concentration of corn silage is reduced.  If the corn plants have limited ear development, fine chopping is not needed for good starch digestibility.  Generally, a theoretical length of cut (TLC) of about ½ inch is acceptable (longer with kernel processing and BMR silage) but this varies greatly between choppers and crop moisture concentration.  If using a Penn State particle size sieve, aim for 5 to 10% on the top screen.

Use a kernel processor.  Kernel processed corn silage tends to pack more densely than unprocessed corn silage which may help increase aerobic stability.  Kernel processing will also increase starch digestibility by breaking the kernel.  Poor starch digestibility is a major problem with dry, mature corn silage.

Reduce Shrink. Fill quickly, pack adequately, cover, and seal the silo as soon as you are done filling.  Practicing good silage-making techniques can reduce shrink by more than 5 percentage units, which can be worth more than $4/ton of corn silage (35% DM).

Corn Silage Harvest Timing

Source: Mark Sulc, Peter Thomison, Bill Weiss, OSU

Silage harvest has begun in some parts of Ohio. Proper harvest timing is critical because it ensures the proper dry matter (DM) concentration required for high quality preservation, which in turn results in good animal performance and lower feed costs. The proper DM concentration is the same whether it is a beautiful, record breaking corn crop or a severely drought stressed field with short plants containing no ears.

The recommended ranges for silage DM are:

Bunker: 30 to 35%

Upright: 32 to 38%

Sealed upright 35 to 40%

Bag: 32 to 40%

Chopping corn silage at the wrong DM concentration will increase fermentation losses and reduce the nutrient value of the silage.  Harvesting corn too wet (low DM concentration) results in souring, seepage, and storage losses of the silage with reduced animal intake. Harvesting too dry (high DM concentration) promotes mold because the silage cannot be adequately packed to exclude oxygen. Harvesting too dry also results in lower energy concentrations and reduced protein digestibility.

Corn silage that is too dry is almost always worse than corn silage that is slightly too wet. So if you are uncertain about the DM content, it is usually better to err on chopping a little early rather than a little late. Follow the guidelines below to be more confident in your moisture assessment.

Kernel stage not a reliable guide for timing silage harvest

Dry matter content of whole plant corn varies with maturity.  Research has shown that the position of the kernel milk-line is NOT a reliable indicator alone for determining harvest timing. Geographic location, planting date, hybrid selection, and weather conditions affect the relationship between kernel milk-line position and whole plant DM content. In a Wisconsin study, 82% of the hybrids tested exhibited a poor relationship between kernel milk-line stage and whole-plant % DM. In Ohio we have seen considerable variation in plant DM content within a given kernel milk-line stage.

Appearance of the kernels should only be used as a guide of when to begin sampling for DM content, see section below When to Begin Field Sampling.

Determining silage moisture

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Stockpiling Forages for Winter Feed

During her July Farm Talk Breakfast, Noble County AgNR Educator Christine Gelley hosted Chris Penrose, AgNR Educator in Morgan County speaking on extending the grazing season through stockpiling. Now is the time to get started stockpiling, and this is Penrose’s presentation describing how to best manage for successful stockpiling.

Risky Weeds in Risky Times

– Christine Gelley, OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Noble County

 

Farming is truly risky business. Every moment of every day on the farm holds inherent risk. The main duties of the farm manager in any sector are to identify, evaluate, and mitigate risk. All the little steps of risk mitigation add up to make a big difference that we can’t always see, but can still save us time, money, and distress in the future.

One of the risks forage managers face on a regular basis is the threat of persistent weeds. Weeds are an issue that compound over time if not addressed soon after detection. Choosing to make the investment in weed prevention and control early can help prevent exponential population growth that is increasingly difficult to manage.

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Pasture- Finished Beef Production Online Workshops

Three concurrent sessions, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm Eastern Time each day:

August 11:

Pasture-finished Beef Production Overview              Greg Halich, University of Kentucky

Forages and Grazing Management                             John Fike, Virginia Tech

 

August 12:

Cattle Selection and Winter Management                  Ed Rayburn, West Virginia University

Marketing and Processing                                           Kenny Burdine and Greg Halich, Univ. KY

 

August 13:

Producer Panel

Putting it All Together – Systems Approach             Greg Halich and Ed Rayburn

 No Cost but need to REGISTER at: https://vaforages.org/pasture-finish-beef/

 

Pasture Management in Dry Weather

Dr. David Barker, Professor – Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University

Dry weather in recent weeks throughout Ohio has raised several questions about how pastures should be managed during drought. Although the experts don’t all agree if this period of dry weather meets the definition of a drought (yet), there is no doubt that pasture growth will slow to zero. How should we be grazing our pastures in mid-summer?

Avoid over-grazing
Unfortunately, without rain or irrigation pastures will not grow, and close grazing will exaggerate this effect. Leaf removal by grazing (or mowing) results in a roughly similar proportion of root death. During moist conditions, roots can recover quite quickly, however, grazing during drought will reduce water uptake due to root loss. As a general rule of thumb, grazing below 2 or 3 inches will accelerate drought effects on pastures, and also, slow recovery once rain does come. Of course, optimum grazing height and management varies with pasture species. As summer progresses into fall we will increase pasture grazing heights and leave more residual, while increasing resting periods. More leaf means less water runoff.

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