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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

May 21, 2019 - 8:09am --

High quality forages typically drive the dairy ration and are the foundation for high milk production.  Currently, most dairy producers face a shortage of quality forage.  Many alfalfa stands suffered severe winterkill due to heaving.  Those stands are lost to production.  Other stands with less severe damage will remain in production, but forage quality will suffer due to weeds and grass filling in areas where alfalfa died off.  Many of the fall planted small grain crops like cereal rye or triticale, intended for high quality late spring forages also suffered some winter damage.  Those stands are thinner than desired and have weedy species invading.  To top it all off, the current weather pattern is preventing the timely harvest of early forage crops.  The result will be lower forage quality.  In view of this situation, Bill Weiss, OSU Dairy Nutrition, put together some recommendations for dairy producers.  Quoting Bill: “Although less than ideal, several options exist that will stretch forage inventory and allow inclusion of lower quality forages without substantial negative effects on milk yield.”  Here are those options from Bill Weiss:

1. Estimate inventory of corn silage and determine if you can increase feeding rate without running out before new crop. If increased feeding rate of corn silage is an option, increase inclusion of corn silage and reduce concentrations of other lower quality forages. The concentration of forage NDF should be kept around 20% of diet dry matter. Diets will likely need more supplemental protein because alfalfa and rye have more protein than corn silage. Cows may also benefit from increased supplementation of potassium and/or sodium buffers. High corn silage diets are usually low in DCAD, which can reduce milk fat yields.

2. Include lower quality forages but keep forage NDF concentration at <20%. At lower inclusion rates, the negative effect of lower quality forage on feed intake is reduced. Keeping forage NDF at 19 to 20% of diet DM reduces (but does not eliminate) the negative effect of low quality forage on intake. Because the more mature forages have more NDF, the percent forage in the diet will decrease which may raise concerns about reduced milk fat yields. However, the amount of forage fiber, not total fiber is what is important with respect to milk fat. Reducing the amount of forage in the diet means that inclusion rates of other feeds must increase. Be careful about replacing forage with corn grain; maintain diet starch concentrations around 25% as forage is reduced. Byproducts such as wheat midds, soyhulls, brewers or distiller grains can replace some of the forage if excess starch is an issue.

3. Based on cow responses, whole cottonseed can replace normal forage almost on a pound for pound basis. Whole cottonseed has about 40% NDF (similar to average alfalfa) which means replacing 8 lbs. of alfalfa silage or hay dry matter with 8% of whole cottonseed should have little effect on the cow (protein and minerals may need to be adjusted and supplemental fat, if fed, may need to be reduced).

4. If forage inventory is not adequate to last until the end of summer, options for growing more forage include BMR-summer annuals or pea-small grain mixes. Pea-small grain mixes produce good quality forage but they need to be planted soon, probably no later than mid-May. They should be harvested in about 60 days. The mix has higher nutritional value than small grains by themselves. BMR sorghum, BMR sorghum-sudan, or BMR sudangrass can be planted beginning in late May and early June when soil temperatures are at least 60-65 F and up to late June in northern Ohio mid-July in central and southern Ohio. They are ready to harvest in 50- 60 days (early August to late August). The resulting silage from BMR sorghum is almost as good as regular corn silage (although lower in starch) when fed to dairy cows. The nutritional value of BMR sudangrass or BMR sorghum-sudan have not be evaluated with dairy cows but likely is similar to that of BMR sorghum.  Fiber digestibility is very good with the BMR summer annuals and inclusion rates can be high.

Overall several options are available for using lower quality forages. The key is to limit forage fiber. Because lower quality forages are high in fiber, diets will contain less forage and more concentrate than typical which will likely increase ration costs, but feeding too much low quality forage will reduce milk yields, which is worse than higher feed costs.


Master Gardeners Answer Questions

During the summer months, Secrest Arboretum Master Gardeners are available to answer home horticulture questions, identify plant samples and help with disease and insect diagnosis.  Master Gardeners will be available to help you in person on WEDNESDAYS from 10am until 1PM in the Secrest Welcome Center, 2122 Williams Road, Wooster.   You can also phone at 330-263-3761 or email:

Samples can be dropped off at the Welcome Center at other times during the week, and a Master Gardener will respond to you on Wednesday.


Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

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