In the July issue we laid out the steps for planting either straight oats or oats plus triticale for a high yield, very high-quality forage harvested the end of September. The best management steps were listed. Unfortunately, we forgot to list doing a rain dance. Instead of 30-inch-tall oats at flag leaf stage the beginning of October, we have stuff that is just over a foot tall. Unless we have July weather in October and November, there is little chance of getting an economical crop. The long term has the Midwest warmer, but not the east. Rather than send more money into a crop that will not make it, the suggestion is to leave it as winter protection for the winter forage planted underneath it. The winter triticale was only a couple of inches shorter than the oats. It is not perfect but you are between a rock and a hard place. Mowing the oats at the end of October instead of the normal end of September, will have significant detrimental effect on the survival and yield next spring of the winter forage planted with it. The suggestion is to maximize the higher yielding winter forage by not harvesting the late oats. It will not smother the winter forage. If you don’t have winter forage in with the oats, you may get a very late lower yield at the end of October. If not , the ground will be in great shape next spring to simply come in and plant a seeding into the oat residue, or plant corn. The oat residue will be the consistency of wet tissue paper and I have planted seedings into it using a conventional drill.
You are up to your eyeballs in corn silage harvest as a major portion of most dairy farms’ forage comes into storage in September and early October. The dry weather has left a shorter crop in some areas, but late rains have produced a higher percentage of grain in the silage that pollenated.
First, and most critical is a caution with this year’s crop, especially sorghum, sorghum-Sudan, and Sudan grass. The widespread dry conditions, coupled with shots of rain, are perfect for setting the sorghum species (and corn) up for high nitrates in the forage. Farmers get all worried about prussic acid in their sorghum silage. Properly harvested and fermented there is little prussic acid risk. In my 44 years I have only heard of one instance (grazing) where this occurred. Nearly every year someone, somewhere, kills a bunch of animals from excessive nitrates in the forage (not just sorghum species). The good news is that fermentation will often drop the nitrate levels in half. This droughty year might be a good time to test before you feed.
The June newsletter covered the use of the old crop, red clover, under modern management, to achieve profitable high yields on less than ideal drained soils utilizing short rotations. We covered the yield and harvest. What about the feed quality and management to get that quality that is critical to supporting the greater than 70% forage diets that farmers are switching to in order to profit under limited milk quota?
Each year, someone, somewhere, ends the growing season short on forage. There are many more this year. For much of New England, the major part of NY, PA, and Ohio the dry conditions are continuing as the jet stream tends to not move for extended periods during the present solar minimum we are experiencing. One area gets dumped on while the other goes begging for water. This has impacted the second (and some areas the first) cutting. Hay crop yields are reported to be down 30 to 40%. The extended days with temperature over 85 F can decrease corn silage yields as corn stops growing above that and we have had many days that fit that picture. Added to it the dry conditions and the potential is for corn yields both be down and later maturity as the corn stopped growing for extended days this summer. It is nearly the beginning of August, and you need to identify how much feed you need and what will supply that. There are still a few options open for last chance forage this year. There are also steps you can take this fall to get very early forage next spring when you run out of haylage.
In the April issue (April 2020 Rotations Working For You click for link) we discussed the impact of shortening your rotations to put more of the acres in high yield conditions. Farmers prefer a longer rotation so they don’t have to seed down as often. Seeding year is high risk, a lot of work fitting the soil and picking stones at the busiest time of the year, and then open to erosion from summer thunderstorms. All this for half the yield of a fully established crop. Compounding the problem are the many farms reporting this year that they are only getting 3 years out of their alfalfa.
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.