There is no way to sugar coat it. We are in a rough year and the spring so far has not been any help. One day of sunshine and four of cloudy, rain, and snow. We will have a small burst of normal weather and then it is forecasted to be much below normal, and the Northeast and mid Atlantic to be wet until mid May. (Read Sunspot Weather Impact to the end of the article, as the weather has and will be long term changing). We had similar weather for the past two years (see graph at end). There are a few lessons we learned from them that are still critical for this year. On any rough road, the key is to avoid the potholes.
The first nice day in spring you are a week behind in fieldwork. The second nice day you are two weeks behind. This old adage is still true today. We have more acres to cover and often I find the equipment size has not kept up to the number of cows added and the forage planted and harvested. Easy for me to say as I don’t have to write the check for the equipment. Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to help balance the workload with the equipment that you have available. This letter will cover several of these steps. I don’t expect you to make any changes this spring, but to think about them as you madly dash around trying to get all the work finished on time.
Ready, Set, Go: A New Cropping Season
Take a deep breath and put your best effort forward. We are about to start a new cropping season. We try to learn from the last horrible season and work to a better tomorrow. For the southern areas of our newsletter, the warm temperatures have started the winter forage. This is the crop that gives you the earliest and the highest quality forage to support production by your top producers. Now is the time to add nitrogen and the critical sulfur so you can save on soybean meal by harvesting high protein forage.
A significant cost on farms is that of raising replacement animals. Acerbating it are low forage rations and overcrowding that stress the mature cows and increase the culling rate. Thus, you need even more replacement animals which is more cost. High forage diets (if you have enough quality forage), reduced crowding, and animal comfort can go a long way reducing this high culling cost and the animals to replace them. These changes take time. There is a step you can take to grow better heifers at less cost starting this year.
A drought will scare a farmer to death, a flood will starve him to death. This is an old saying that accurately indicates the impact of wet weather. With last year we need to redefine wet for a number of areas for how deep the water was on the field. In the worse areas farms are short or potentially short on forage. For emergency forage, decisions need to be made NOW. Schedule SOON a detail meeting with your nutritionist to see exactly how much forage you will have and how far it will go with your rations. Make adjustments now and develop contingency plans for this next season.
We have had more than 4 years of very adverse economy in the dairy industry. Farmers have tightened their belts until it touches their backbone. Making it though will mean every part of the farm system needs scrutiny. One area is in the cropping program, where more than 40 years ago an agriculture banker said it was the biggest hidden profit loss on the farm, and often is still today. Livestock need forage. Growing it needs to cost less than purchased. Unfortunately many farms have fallen back to short cuts that are very expensive.
The heat of summer has been a real crop saver. Many of the days of the northeast and north central were 80-85F which is maximum for corn to grow at. With a cool – cold spring and rain delays, this greatly helped the late planted corn to make up considerable time by maximum growing degree day accumulation. Unfortunately, some in the hardest hit areas will never make maturity for silage or grain.
Harvest is approaching. For many it will be very different from the past. A number of farms are growing sorghum or sorghum species for the first time. Its harvest timing is very different than corn silage if you want to get it right. In addition, there was a lot of corn silage planted in June and July. This corn could be very immature when it is harvested. Compounding that problem, multiple weather reports are saying that as this is a solar minimum year, cool to cold temperatures will return with a vengeance and the possibility of an early frost or freeze is above average. With the immature/late planted corn, this is not what we need. Immature corn silage is a lot like sorghum or sorghum-Sudan. It will be a wet, higher sugar, low starch forage. Chopping this with a short length of cut, and worse – processing, will produce forage the consistency of applesauce or soup. This is not beneficial to good fermentation, high milk components, or preserving nutrients (lost leachate is 100% digestible). The good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize these potential problems.
As the screwed-up season continues into a bigger mess, more farms have come to the realization that their first cutting is much less than expected due to extensive legume stand loss over the winter. The crop did not come back. Those with alfalfa and grass are much better off as the grass can be fed with nitrogen and sulfur. Fertilizer combined with the cool temperatures and copious rainfall, could give you almost the same yearly yield providing you are mowing at 4 inch cutter bar height.
Don’t panic. I wrote last year: “This season has seen much of the Northeast and Northcentral with one of the latest dates to start planting corn.” Well, this year will be as late as last year and we had some very good corn silage crops last year (if you were able to get them out of the field).