February Male Sterile Sorghum Mgt

In the January issue we covered the first part of utilizing BMR forage sorghum, male sterile version to produce high quality forage for dairy production.  The sorghum is cheaper to grow per acre than most corn varieties.  Utilized the year before corn, it eliminates corn rootworm the first year or two after.   Deer hide in it and then come out to eat the neighbor corn.  The problem is that most sorghum has a grain head that as it fills, lodges the crop making it difficult to harvest.   The use of a male sterile variety eliminates the weighty head on a thin stalk.  Instead of increasing digestible components by filling a seed head (vitreous, hard to digest starch), it keeps those components in the forage cells.  This increases the milk producing ability while simultaneously increasing the dry matter of the forage.  The question we had was how long should you let the crop grow after heading before ensiling?  In our study we went seven weeks post heading.   As reported in the January letter, the sugar component as measured by wet chemistry, increased 500% to 18.85% of the dry matter.  This was measured post fermentation (three weeks) so it reflects what the cows would be consuming from the ration.


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Jan 2021 Sorghum Alt. Mgt.

The past two issues we highlighted some research that failed spectacularly.  This issue will focus on research in progress that did work and has tremendous potential for high quality dairy forage across much of the northeast and central US and parts of Canada.

We got into this project because winter forage acres need to be planted early (2 weeks before wheat for grain) for high yield and soil protection, but this directly reduces the corn season.  There is no short-season BMR corn.  Short season BMR sorghum has been tested and produces high yields and quality to replace corn silage. My research, documented by Dr. Chase (Professor Emeritus, Dairy Nutrition, Cornell), found that with proper balancing, BMR sorghum sp. can produce the same milk as corn silage.  Work at Miner Institute on BMR sorghum-Sudan also documented the same milk production as corn silage but with higher components and greater feed conversion efficiency

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November 2020 Max Forage and 2 Not to do

And two things NOT to do!

As we move into the early winter, the seed catalogues and fliers are arriving.  A change many farms are making is to shorten the season of the corn silage.  With the large swings in the weather patterns that we have talked about before, a sure crop that reaches optimum maturity is more cautious approach to economically sure forage production.  Variety trials over the past decade have shown the corn breeders efforts have produced higher yields from traditionally shorter varieties.   Longer season varieties don’t guarantee you higher yields

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October short emergency crops 2020


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.


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September 2020 Fall Steps


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.


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Red Clover: The rest of the story

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?


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July 2020 Short Forage, Fall Oats, Winter Forage

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.

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June New Forage From Old Crop 2020

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.


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May 2020 Potholes in the Forage Program

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.

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April 2020 Rotations Working for You

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.

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