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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

April 30, 2024 - 9:25am --

It appears as though Mother Nature is giving us a little break from all the precipitation to allow fields to shed some water and permit field operations.  As I have driven around the county, the number of dust clouds signaling tillage work have gradually increased each day.  There are a few fields that have been planted, at least partially, and the rye is being harvested to start our annual feed storage process.  The cooler temperatures have probably helped slow our small grain growth, briefly extending the harvest window on your rye.  It won’t be long before the triticale and barley are ready to be relocated to the bunker.

I am still in the process of learning what happens, and when, for the county.  Reflecting to my days in Fayette County, I know there would be a lot of agitation if you didn’t have a couple fields under your belt at this point.  Regardless of what the weather offers, we can’t lose focus on getting our small grain silage harvested and stored properly to ensure that we are producing the highest quality feed possible.  Several months ago, there was an article in Progressive Forage magazine relating the importance of homegrown, high-quality feed and dairy profitability.  Cassie Yost and Tim Beck from Penn State University Extension highlighted a survey of FINBIN data for 288 Pennsylvania dairy farmers that pointed out that the most profitable dairies were able to not only produce a significant amount of forage for their rations but could conclude that they were also above average at producing high quality forage.  When harvesting our forage crops, you need to recognize that a forage will have its highest quality, and volume, as it is standing the field and that every step we take to harvest that forage decreases the tonnage and quality that will eventually be offered to the cows.

Maximizing yield and quality begins with harvest time

Maximizing yield and quality begins with harvest at the most ideal growth stage.  The intersection of yield and quality is generally the early boot stage, with dramatic reductions once heading has occurred.  The processes involved in moving the forage to the silo also cause yield and quality losses.  Mowing, tedding, and raking can reduce available dry matter by 11 to 26%, and crude protein by 2.5%.  While some loss is unavoidable, large losses in dry matter and quality factors can be limited by chopping at an average dry matter content of 35%.  As you know, the current weather will greatly impact the speed that the forage will dry down to the desired moisture.  It could be just a few hours or stretch into the next day.

Your nutritionist may be relying on your small grain silage to also provide some effective fiber.  So keeping the cut length to about ¾ to one inch is important.  The final step is getting it in the silo or bunker.  The University of Wisconsin has a great spreadsheet tool to help determine the bulk density of forage in your bunker silo.  It is recommended that you pack to achieve a bulk density of at least 44 lbs of as-fed forage per cubic foot, or 15 lbs per cubic foot on a dry matter basis.

Produce a sound herd health program

New reports of Bovine Influenza A Virus, formerly known as High Pathogenic Avian Influenza in dairy cattle, has slowed.  The animal health community has begun to better understand how the virus is being transmitted and its effects on dairy cattle.  Most recently it was learned the virus is able to be passed from cow to cow.  Once it is in the herd, it is hard to limit the spread.  I have mentioned several times that veterinary professionals are stressing the importance of a sound herd health program and greater attentiveness to on-farm biosecurity.  As we reflect on how this virus spread around the country, producers should be mindful of quarantine measures for new stock.  Most viruses will present clinical signs within 14 days of an infection.  If producers are able to identify a location to quarantine new arrivals for 30 days, they could be able to limit the spread and impact of disease in the future.  Our OSU dairy specialist have created a new dairy and beef cattle biosecurity factsheet.  You can access the factsheet on the OSU Extension Dairy Team page at  I hope that everyone has a safe, and profitable, growing season.  As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me at the OSU Extension office – Wayne County at 330-264-8722 or email me at

John Yost is an Extension Educator IV, Agriculture and Natural Resources, at OSU Extension-Wayne County
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.