Hay & Forage Gorwer Magaizne - Jan 2021

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January 2021

Step up your grazing game in 2021 pg 9 Nontraditional forages are taking root pg 14 Don’t forget the fiber pg 18

Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

Living their dream pg 26

ROI… Krone delivers BiG

, m r o if n u is le a b y Ever

! T A E R G S I Y T I L A U Q E H T D AN

Steve Degner is a farmer and custom hay operator from Waterloo, Illinois. He talks about his BiG Pack 870 HDP XC Multi-Bale. “I’m in the hay business, so the hay has to be excellent quality. This Krone makes a beautiful bale…saves the leaves. It pre-rolls it, then every bale is uniform, and the quality is great.”


Scott Myers, who runs a grain and hay business owner near Dalton, Ohio, talks about his Krone 890.

Scott Myers

“The great thing about these Krone balers is you basically never have to get off them. With the competitive machine, first thing I noticed I was digging the baler out all the time. We are able to bale 13 miles an hour, we average over two bales a minute…way over a ton a minute!”


See your Krone Dealer for

BiG SAVINGS on a BiG Pack Baler.

January 2021 · VOL. 36 · No. 1 MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer L. Yurs ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg jzilverberg@hayandforage.com ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com

6 Short in stature but big on success


This family custom harvesting business is bolstered by a will to succeed, an army of part-time employees, and the decision to purchase a silage bagger many years ago.

EDITORIAL OFFICE 28 Milwaukee Ave. West, Fort Atkinson, WI, 53538 WEBSITE www.hayandforage.com EMAIL info@hayandforage.com PHONE (920) 563-5551

DEPARTMENTS 4 First Cut 9 Beef Feedbunk 12 Dairy Feedbunk 16 Alfalfa Checkoff


18 Feed Analysis


19 The Pasture Walk 24 Forage Gearhead

Have a plan for winter hay feeding

Living their dream — farming the line

There are many options for winter feeding. Make sure the one you pick is successful.

Kevin and Lydia Yon started with nothing out of college. Now they have the life that was always hoped for.





















38 Forage IQ 38 Hay Market Update ON THE COVER Both humble and thoughtful, Kevin Yon and his family operate a successful Angus seedstock operation near Ridge Spring, S.C. Although their Angus genetics are widely sought, Yon points to their forage program as being the real profit center. The farm is located right on the fall line between tall fescue dominated pastures and those comprised mainly of bermudagrass and bahiagrass. Winter cereals and ryegrass are also used extensively. Read more about the family and farm beginning on page 26. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2020 W. D. Hoard & Sons Company. All rights reserved. Published six times annually in January, February, March, April/May, August/September and November by W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Tel: 920-563-5551. Fax: 920-563-7298. Email: info@hayandforage.com. Website: www.hayandforage. com. Periodicals Postage paid at Fort Atkinson, Wis., and additional mail offices. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. Non-qualified subscribers may subscribe at: USA: 1 year $20 U.S.; Outside USA: Canada & Mexico, 1 year $80 U.S.; All other countries, 1 year $120 U.S. For Subscriber Services contact: Hay & Forage Grower, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 USA; call: 920-563-5551, email: info@hayandforage.com or visit: www.hayandforage.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to HAY & FORAGE GROWER, 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Subscribers who have provided a valid email address may receive the Hay & Forage Grower email newsletter eHay Weekly.

January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 3



Mike Rankin Managing Editor

S A young lad growing up in northeast Ohio, a family friend bought me a chess set for my birthday. Whenever he would come over to our house for a visit, we would play a game. It was always a blood bath, with yours truly being in the tub. I knew the rules, but strategy and tactics totally eluded me as a 10-year-old. As I grew older, our friend moved on and so did my interest in the game. The chess set soon found itself buried in the closet. Throughout my life, that chess set has followed me from Ohio to Iowa to Illinois, back to Iowa, and finally to a couple of locations in Wisconsin. It always took its rightful place in the back corner of a closet. During the past year, my son-in-law started to teach my grandson chess during a family gathering. Soon, I was brought into a discussion of the game I had long forgotten. Next, I was shamed into playing, barely beating my 9-year-old grandson in my first chess match in over 50 years. For some reason, I have become more intrigued with the game of chess than when I was as a young boy. Perhaps it is the thought of being battered by my sonin-law and grandson for the remainder of my life, although I continue to hold the upper hand on a pool table and cornhole boards. Apparently, I am not the only one who acquired a renewed interest in chess during 2020. The pandemic, which has driven people to more idle hours at home, is given credit for a surge in the sales of chess sets. Also playing a major role was a fictional miniseries that aired on Netflix called “The Queen’s Gambit,” which tells of an orphaned chess prodigy on her rise to becoming the world’s premier chess player. As for me, I started my meteoric rise to chess mediocrity by doing what seemed most appropriate. I read “Chess for Dummies.” Currently, I’ve moved on to more tactical essays, mostly marveling at the people who figured this stuff out but with little hope of ever achieving the documented level of play. Although my fate will never be that of a chess master, I have gained an extreme appreciation

for the game itself. No chess piece moves the same as the others. Some pieces have more value than others, but all of them play critical roles in the attack of their opponent, even the lowly pawns. The object of chess is to checkmate the opponent’s king. This can be done in a multitude of ways. At the same time, any checkmate strategy may be thwarted by your opponent as he or she seeks to checkmate your king. It’s the ultimate game of simultaneous offense and defense that is played out in both harmony and chaos. For me, it’s mostly the latter. Harmony and chaos . . . does that sound like something else we’re familiar with? How about farming? Farming is the ultimate chess game. It’s chess on steroids. Those who approach farming or chess without some thoughtful strategy are usually doomed. Checkmate. More commonly, there is a strategy. There are also grandmaster opponents. The most common ones on the farm or ranch are uncontrollable economic factors and Mother Nature. Low farmgate prices and/or high input prices . . . check. A pandemic . . . check. A baler breakdown . . . check. Rain occurs six hours before the hay is ready to bale . . . check. Rain seemingly never falls . . . check. As in the board game, we find a defense for the check, either before, during, or after it occurs. We play on with an always present end goal of avoiding the dreaded checkmate. As with pawns in chess, small things matter. No game or year is the same. In 2021, here’s wishing you a good plan for the check, the avoidance of a checkmate, and much better skill at doing both than I have with my grandson. •

Write Managing Editor Mike Rankin, 28 Milwaukee Ave., P.O. Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 call: 920-563-5551 or email: mrankin@hayandforage.com

4 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

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Short in stature but

BIG ON SUCCESS by Mike Rankin


IRE up your Google machine and search for Sherrill, Iowa, making sure that it’s in satellite view mode. Pan out, and what you’ll see is a hodgepodge of hundreds of uniquely shaped small fields, which form a pattern that even the most experienced quilter would find difficult to replicate. As the crow flies, you’ll also find the Mississippi River a little over 3 miles to the north of Sherrill, where the river takes a dogleg to the west. In this area, however, no road runs as the crow flies unless the bird is severely impaired. 6 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

It’s here — in this land of rolling hills and comparatively small farming operations — that Rusty Bahl and his family are farming and have carved out a successful custom forage harvesting business. The 5-foot, 4-inch third-generation farmer has been chopping alfalfa and corn in this region since he was 15 years old. He also feeds out 1,100 head of beef cattle each year and has 160 brood cows that are kept on various pastures throughout the area.

Bought the farm’s chopper Bahl grew up on a dairy farm with two brothers and two sisters. Their father also ran a small construction and

Mike Rankin

excavating business. Upon graduating from high school, one of Bahl’s brothers took over the family’s dairy. Not large enough to support two Bahl boys, the father suggested that Rusty buy the farm’s John Deere 5460 chopper and begin custom chopping. “It was 1985 and the local custom chopper was retiring,” Bahl said. “I was just out of high school, so I contacted his clients, and they were willing to let me do their chopping. That was the start of Rusty’s Custom Chopping, and we’ve been at it ever since.” Bahl still shares machinery with his brother, who owns all of the planting equipment and a combine. Rusty owns


Rusty Bahl started chopping forage at the age of 15. Currently, Bahl’s custom chopping business harvests alfalfa and corn silage for clients in the rolling hills of northeast Iowa.

custom forage harvesting business, Bahl’s dad suggested he buy a used silage bagger. That purchase helped bring more clients, and he purchased a new bagger in 1997. “That one really got used,” remembered Bahl. The silage bagging enterprise helped the business grow, but so did a new wife, Sandy, whom he married in 2000. “She did a lot of the hauling from the field to the silo or bagger during our early years of marriage,” Bahl said. “These days, she helps with bookkeeping and coordinates with our 25 part-time employees to make sure we’re covered with enough drivers for each job.” The couple have two children, a son, Tanner (13 years old), and a daughter, Mataya (10 years old). The Bahls employ one other full-time employee. Bahl started using straight trucks for silage hauling in 2004 and continued to upgrade his bagger. His fleet now consists of seven trucks and a self-propelled Ag-Bagger, which is equipped with an air-conditioned cab that Bahl retrofitted from a combine and rewired. The Iowan runs wide, single tires on the trucks to alleviate compaction. If conditions get too muddy in the fall, these tires are swapped out for bartreaded tires, which provide improved traction during corn silage harvest. In extremely wet conditions, the trucks are set up such that they can be pulled with a tractor.

A young man’s game Mike Rankin

the forage harvesting and seeding equipment. Together, they farm about 900 acres of owned or rented land, which consists of 180 alfalfa acres with the rest being in corn. The corn is either chopped for silage or harvested as earlage, using an eight-row combine head on the forage harvester. During those early years, Bahl began farming the family’s rented acreage and grew his custom forage harvesting business. “I chopped by myself and filled the wagons,” he explained. “In those days, most of my clients had tower silos, so we had to unload into the blower.” After about five years of being in the

Unlike many custom forage harvesting businesses, Bahl has always owned only one forage harvester, which he trades in every three to four years. To save engine hours on the machine and realize a higher trade-in value, he trailers the chopper to most jobs unless it’s close to home. Bahl currently runs a John Deere 9900 forage harvester that he purchased last fall along with a 12-row corn cutter head. “It’s tough to find people qualified who can run machinery on these small, hilly fields, and this is a young man’s game,” Bahl noted. “I don’t even chop much anymore.” In addition to the forage harvester, silage bagger, and trucks, Bahl’s machine shed is filled with a 32-foot Krone Big M hay mower-conditioner, a 30-foot Oxbo hay merger, a round baler,

Mike Rankin

There are many long days for Rusty and Sandy Bahl, who work together to ensure both their custom harvesting business and farming operation stay profitable.

and a silage push tractor and blade for bunker silo jobs. Although Bahl no longer logs many hours in the chopper cab, he keeps an eagle eye out for potential mechanical issues. “My job is to keep everything running and prevent any problems before they occur,” Bahl said. “I’ve always had a good ear and eye for identifying a small problem that could turn into a bigger one. My other major concern and responsibility during a job is to ensure employee safety. This is dangerous work, and somebody has to make sure everyone returns home safe at the end of the day,” he added. Bahl learned a long time ago that it’s important for a custom forage harvesting business to have good insurance. “It’s always a lot better to know what you have and fill any deficiencies before it has to be used,” Bahl opined. “Too many times, those of us in this business have to learn that lesson the hard way.”

Diverse client needs “About 60% of our jobs are for harvesting and silage bagging,” Bahl noted, “although we also do some bunker silos and a few uprights. We have a couple of larger dairies, but most continued on following page >>> January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 7

CJ Weddle

Mike Rankin

Bahl cuts some of his own hay that he usually establishes in late summer after a short-season corn hybrid is harvested for silage.

of the farms in this area are small to medium-sized.” The custom chopping business harvests about 3,000 acres of corn silage and 300 acres (cut multiple times) of alfalfa each year. About 100 acres of winter rye and oats are also harvested. He charges by the ton for corn silage and by the hour for haylage. In the fall, he harvests about 500 acres of earlage for clients. “We used to do a lot more of that,” he noted. “Unfortunately, a lot of the smaller dairies are going out of business,” Bahl said. “Some of them have shifted to baleage systems, which cut into our bagging business, while others are just relying on more corn silage.” Even with the changing and diverse client base, Bahl has no trouble keeping busy with both his farm to operate and harvesting for his customers. “For me, the quality of the hay is the thing that I take the most pride in,” he said. “We try to get it cut on time and maximize leaf retention. What I really like about bags is that you can inventory your forage by quality. Even for my beef herd, I’ll have five or six different bags open in the winter and use them based on the type of cattle I’m feeding. It’s just a sound management system,” he added.

Five things . . . In addition to forage quality, Bahl is a stickler for machinery maintenance. “I try run a good fleet of equipment,” he 8 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

emphasized. “Not necessarily new, but clean equipment that is in good working condition. My employees appreciate that.” Bahl continued, “In the winter, each piece of equipment gets at least a week’s worth of attention in the shop. My rule is to find at least five things wrong, then find five more and five more after that. It may be something as simple as a missing bolt on a truck fender . . . that’s one. I don’t want to head into a new season with any soft spots.” Each winter, a new set of kernel processing rolls goes into the forage harvester. “The dairy nutritionists monitor the conditioning pretty closely, so I don’t want any problems along those lines,” Bahl said. “We don’t want to be changing rolls in the middle of a job.”

The home farm The base of operations for Rusty’s Custom Chopping LLC is located on a farm that has been rented by the Bahl family for nearly 60 years and is down the road from the family farm operated by Rusty’s brother. The Bahls were able to purchase a few acres to build a house, machine shed, and shop, but otherwise are surrounded by rented land. “It’s not that we haven’t tried to purchase the farm, but the current owners haven’t been willing to sell just yet,” Bahl explained. Generally speaking, client’s fields take priority over Bahl’s own fields. Even so, that often means taking care

The Bahl’s son, Tanner, operates the self-propelled silage bagger at a client’s dairy farm.

of the home farm during the evening, which makes for some long days. It has helped that the Bahls’ son Tanner has started to take an interest in the family business and can now be found operating the bagger, merger, or just offering general support. As for his own alfalfa, Bahl has a unique approach for establishment. He prefers to make his new seedings in the late summer after corn silage is harvested. He explains, “For the fields we want to seed down, I will plant a shortday corn first in the spring and plan to have it chopped off by mid-August. This is advantageous in several ways. First, we ensure our equipment is ready for the silage season. Second, it gives us a place to go with our liquid cattle manure. Finally, we give the alfalfa enough time to establish so that we can get four crops off in the first production year,” he added. Recently, Bahl began experimenting by seeding alfalfa under corn in the spring. This is a practice that John Grabber at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Prairie du Sac, Wis., has been trying to perfect over the past 10 years. “It actually established pretty well other than in an area of the field that stayed pretty wet,” Bahl said. “I think it’s something that I’ll try again.” Based on the success of his custom forage harvesting business and farming ventures, don’t be surprised if he makes it work. •


by Matt Poore and heifers on hay during October as their winter pastures of oats and ryegrass establish. The last two years we have really had trouble with these cattle in muddy conditions due to some wet autumns. This year was shaping up to be wet again, so we decided to try bale grazing. Bale grazing consists of putting out enough hay for the specified period of time (45 round bales for 30 days in this case) and then rationing it out using electric fence. As the cattle clean up each set of bales, the next fence is taken down and the rings moved to the new bales. This approach prevents a lot of damage to the land that happens when you drive frequently to deliver hay into wet pastures.

Step up your grazing game in 2021


RAZING management is getting more attention these days, but the vast majority of cow-calf producers still use continuous or lax rotational grazing. Actively managed grazing does take effort, but it can be one of the most rewarding activities on the farm. Adaptive grazing is an approach that encourages the grazier to use a combination of grazing techniques to develop their own custom system that is adapted to their personal situation. A successful adaptive grazier knows how to grow a lot of forage, use it with short grazing periods and long rest periods, and maintain at least a moderate amount of residual forage mass after each grazing bout. There are many grazing techniques that can help you apply these principles, and making critical observations each time you allocate pasture will lead to a system of continuous improvement. Recently, due to COVID-19 restrictions, I have been stuck at home on the farm, and this has given me a chance to really focus on my grazing skills. My family runs 110 cows in Virgilina, Va., 50 miles due north of Raleigh, N.C.

A mix of strategies My personal favorite grazing technique is “frontal grazing” with a single wire that is moved ahead of the cows. I have been using this technique during calving on our group of first-calf heifers this year,

and it works really well since we check them twice a day. We ran 18 heifers in a 10-acre field of novel endophyte tall fescue (MaxQ) for 30 days, and moved the wire about 15 feet twice per day. Moving the wire is as simple as creating a little slack with the reel and then just walking along and moving the step-in posts over. The reel end can be advanced as necessary, so you can use that single wire to cross the whole field. By the time you move the fence, the heifers have lined up to be counted. Our mature cow herd has spent their calving season grazing a stockpiled mix of crabgrass, dallisgrass, and KY-31 tall fescue, and we give them a fresh strip of grass once per day. I am flip flopping two reels to make the daily allocation. It can be a bit challenging to take down the wire with calves tearing around all over the place, but if you keep it tight as you walk and reel it up, you can get along pretty well. This approach only takes me about 20 minutes, and the entire time, I am making observations about the cows and calves. With each of these situations, I only back fence after about two weeks. I like the cows and calves to have plenty of area to spread out when it rains, and for cows to get away from the herd to calve. With fresh grass on the grazing front, the herd is rarely seen in the previously grazed areas. We typically feed our yearling steers

Polywire is powerful Each of these advanced grazing practices requires a good understanding of temporary electric fencing. The key is to have a lot of power on your fence. Cattle really respect a hot wire, so if you can get the power high and check it often enough to find problems as they develop, you can totally change the behavior of your cow herd. There may be individual cows that don’t adapt to the system, but that is a pretty rare occurrence. Once the cattle are trained to the temporary fence, there are many benefits beyond the ability to ration out nutrition in an adaptive grazing system. When cows get into a rhythm with a system, they become more and more docile and easy to manage. You will be able to sort off cows using a reel of polywire. You will be able to use a reel of polywire to reduce the number of people you need in the working pen. You will be able to fence off damaged areas that need to rest and limit access to shade when cows don’t need to be under trees. You can even put cows into a narrow section and spray them for flies! If you don’t use advanced grazing techniques in your beef cow program, I encourage you to consider it. Use your internet browser to search for “The Power of One Wire” and “Twelve Step Plan to Amazing Grazing.” • MATT POORE The author is an extension ruminant nutrition specialist at North Carolina State University.

January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 9

A fermentation analysis helps to identify potential feeding problems.

Jimmy Henning

Assess feeding risk with fermentation analysis by Jimmy Henning


ALEAGE, the ensiling of wilted forage in round bales wrapped in UV-resistant, stretch wrap plastic, is a beneficial option for making high-quality stored forage in the humid regions of the U.S. The technology is well proven but not without its challenges. Mostly, the challenges revolve around achieving a moisture content (MC) in the target range of 40% to 60%. Ensiling forage in a bale can be difficult, especially because the fermentable carbohydrates are on the inside of cells and must diffuse out to come in contact with the fermenting bacteria on the surface of the plant. For this reason, fermentation analyses will often “flag� a baleage sample as high risk compared to a chopped haylage sample at a similar moisture level because the baleage will often have a low lactic acid value and a pH level above 5. An on-farm research study in Kentucky over the past three years collected 10 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

data on the fermentation characteristics of over 100 lots of baleage with MC ranging from 20% to 80%. As a result of studying these samples and the associated production practices, what follows is a guide to interpreting baleage fermentation reports. Moisture/dry matter: This value is the moisture content of the forage as tested. The MC of baleage should fall between 40% and 60% to enhance fermentation and to inhibit the growth of clostridial bacteria. Fermentation results are better when MC is between 50% and 60%. Baleage with a MC below 50% will have limited lactic acid production and pH values usually above 5. Crude protein: This is the estimate of the protein value of baleage, calculated by measuring nitrogen (N) content and multiplying by 6.25. Higher crude protein values are associated with early-cut forages (vegetative to early reproductive stage) and often indicate a higher level of readily fermentable carbohydrates. Lactic acid: This is the product

of anaerobic fermentation of soluble sugars and carbohydrates by lactic acid-producing bacteria such as Lactobacillus plantarum. Lactic acid values of 3% or greater are desired in baleage (dry matter [DM] basis). Lactic acid values are frequently below 3% in baleage and are generally lower than in chopped haylage for reasons explained previously. Lactic acid should be the dominant acid in well-fermented baleage, present in greater quantities than acetic, propionic, and butyric acid. Acetic acid: This organic acid, coupled with lactic acid, should constitute most, if not all, of the volatile fatty acids in baleage. Acetic acid inhibits yeast and mold growth and helps keep baleage from spoiling during feeding. Concentrations of acetic acid should be between 1% and 4% (DM basis) and, ideally, no more than half of the lactic acid present. High acetic acid (greater than 4%) can be caused by very high moisture (greater than 75%); slow fermentation, possibly due to high-protein content, which buffers pH change; or loosely packed baleage. Some clostridial fermentations can also produce acetic acid. Propionic acid: Levels for this organic acid should be less than 1% (DM basis). High propionic acid levels indicate that insufficient sugar was available for fermentation. Butyric acid: No more than 0.5% (DM basis), and ideally less, is the recommended level for butyric acid. Cattle intake has been shown to be depressed by as little as 0.3% butyric acid. Elevated concentrations means the baleage has undergone secondary fermentation by clostridial bacteria. High butyric acid levels are associated with very wet forages, forages contaminated with soil or manure, and mature forages that do not undergo a rapid pH drop. There are multiple genera of clostridial bacteria but only one, Clostridia botulinum, causes botulism. Clostridial JIMMY HENNING The author is a professor and extension forage specialist with the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Observations are important To assess the quality of baleage fermentation, your observations can tell you a lot. Good baleage will not have an off odor, while high butyric

acid baleages can have a very putrid odor. Bales that squat or that have effluent seeping out are likely excessively wet and have undergone undesirable fermentation. Finally, bales that have holes in the plastic, particularly those formed soon after baling, will lead to poor fermentation in that area and may be prone to causing botulism in livestock. To assess the damage caused by holes, it may be necessary to take multiple samples at and around the damaged area. It is far safer to discard bales where the holes have allowed significant air infiltration. The worst case of botulism in cattle that I have ever encountered came from feeding a row of bales wrapped with an inline applicator that had a significant gash in the plastic mid-row. Cows did not experience a problem until reaching the compromised bales. Baleage is a valuable option to allow harvest of high-quality feed while avoiding rain damage. Even though ensiling parameters for baleage are generally less desirable than in chopped haylage with the same moisture content, a fermentation analysis plus

careful observation can be very helpful. Baleage with a MC between 40% and 60%, cut at an early maturity, and baled tight and wrapped with six layers of plastic will generally ferment well enough to be stable through one feeding season. High moisture, elevated butyric acid levels, ammonia N above 15% (as percent of total N), ash content above 11%, bad odors, and holes in the plastic are all indicators that baleage has a high probability of causing feeding problems, even botulism. •

Forage pH levels that stop clostridial growth at different moisture contents for legumes and grasses 6.5


6.0 5.5


bacteria can ferment sugars, lactic acid, or proteins and usually produce elevated levels of ammonia. pH: This is a measure of the acidity of the baleage. Fermentation of forage leads to a drop in pH due to the production of acetic and lactic acids. Ideally, baleage should have a pH of 5 or below to inhibit secondary fermentation by clostridial bacteria. However, baleage pH is commonly above 5. Values of 5 or above are not necessarily a cause for concern unless other problem markers are present, such as high moisture content, high butyric acid levels, and/or high ash content. The pH necessary to inhibit clostridial fermentation depends on the type of forage (grass or legume) and the moisture content of the baleage. Clostridial growth will be inhibited at a higher pH for legumes than for grasses (see figure). Clostridial bacteria are also inhibited by a MC below 60%. Ammonia, crude protein equivalent: This is the amount of ammonia (NH3) present in baleage expressed as crude protein. Some ammonia in baleage is acceptable. Excessive amounts are an indication that clostridial fermentation has taken place. Ammonia-N, percent of total N: This is the proportion of the total nitrogen present in a forage that is ammonia. Ammonia-N levels above 15% indicate clostridial fermentation has occurred. Elevated ammonia levels are usually associated with high butyric acid levels. Ash: This is the fraction of the forage that is inorganic minerals. Standing forage is about 8% to 10% ash (DM basis). Elevated ash content (greater than 11%) indicates that the baleage has been contaminated with soil. Excessive soil in baleage can arise from aggressive raking, soil splashing caused by rain during curing, and from flood damage. Small grains and tall-growing summer annuals are prone to elevated ash content because they are often planted in rows with bare soil in between. These crops typically produce heavy windrows requiring aggressive raking, which tend to move more soil into the forage, elevating the ash content. Ash is not generally reported in a fermentation analysis, but it is on a standard forage quality analysis.


Grass, corn

4.5 4.0 15








DM concentration, % Adapted from Leibensperger and Pitt, 1987

January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 11


by Larry Chase

A trend toward more forage and milk


ORAGES are the foundation of nutritionally sound and rumen healthy rations. The quality and quantity of forages fed are related to milk production, purchased feed costs, whole farm nutrient balance, and profitability. Forages are usually the most economical sources of energy, protein, and fiber in dairy rations. The industry trend is for a greater proportion of forage in the total ration, while at the same time, milk production per cow has continued to climb. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin surveyed the feeding programs of seven high-producing Holstein herds in 1995. These herds had an average milk production of 28,912 pounds of milk per lactation. The average forage inclusion was 44% of the total ration dry matter with a range of 36% to 55%. Six of the herds used alfalfa silage as the primary forage in the ration. Two herds fed no corn silage. Total ration neutral detergent fiber (NDF) averaged 27.3% with a range of 24.7% to 30%.

Times have changed In 2019, we put together a set of 79 rations in high-producing herds. This was a survey, and herd information was provided by feed companies and nutrition consultants. Since there were several ration formulation programs used, all rations were evaluated using the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS) model to provide a common base for ration evaluation. There were 26 rations from herds feeding one ration to all their milking cows. In the other 53 herds, a highgroup ration was used. Model-predicted

energy-corrected milk production averaged 110 pounds per cow per day. These herds were primarily from the Northeast and Midwest regions, but three herds from Israel were also included. Key findings from this survey included: • Forage as a percent of ration dry matter averaged 54.7 with a range of 33 to 72. The three herds from Israel fed 33% to 35% forage. They use limited forage since it is expensive and a lot of co-product feeds are available. There were 16 herds that fed more than 60% forage. • The average ration NDF level was 30% with a range of 25% to 36%. • Forage NDF intake, as a percent of body weight, was 0.87 with a range of 0.58 to 1.14. A goal of 0.9% to 1% is a good starting point for setting ration forage intake. • A variety of forages were fed (see table). Corn silage was the primary forage fed in most herds. In six herds, legume silage was the primary forage, and the amount of straw fed was less than 1 pound in herds using this forage in the ration.

Why more forage? There are several factors that contribute to the fact that dairy herd milk production has increased even with higher amounts of forage being fed. These include: • Improved forage genetics: There have been significant improvements in forage digestibility and yield. The change in digestibility translates to higher dry matter intake and milk production. • Improved forage practices: Dairy producers have made many changes in crop rotations, forage hybrid

Forages fed in high-producing herds Forage

LARRY CHASE The author is an emeritus professor of dairy nutrition with Cornell University.

12 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

and variety selection, soil testing, fertilization, and harvest and storage management. The result is higher yields of forage per acre. • Greater use of forage testing: Forage testing labs continue to offer new analyses that better predict the value of forage in the ration. The availability and use of NDF digestibility have been a major contributor to the increase in ration forage levels. • Ration formulation programs: These programs continue to add new nutritional concepts that better predict the use of forages and feeds in rations. The ability to incorporate forage digestibility information in these programs permits higher levels of forage to be used. • Forage storage and allocation: It is more common to store forages by quality. This provides the opportunity to better match forage quality to animal needs. • Cows have changed: Dairy cows today are bigger than 15 to 20 years ago. This has resulted in greater rumen capacity and higher dry matter intakes. When combined with improved fiber digestibility, this allows cows to consume more feed and assists in using higher ration forage levels. Herds feeding higher forage rations are more common. These herds use several types of forages in the rations. A common thread through all herds is the use of higher quality forages. The choice of which forage(s) to produce on a specific farm depends on factors such as soil type, crop rotation, and nutrient management considerations. The quality of the forage is more important in determining potential milk production than forage type. •

Number of herds


Number of herds

Corn silage


BMR corn silage


Legume silage


Legume hay


Grass silage


Grass hay


Mixed legume grass silage


Mixed legume grass hay


Small grain silage




No corn silage


No legume forage




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© 2021 Forage Genetics International, LLC. Roundup Ready ® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® is a registered trademark of Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready ® Technology and Roundup Ready ® Alfalfa are subject to planting and use restrictions. Visit ForageGenetics.com/legal for the full legal, stewardship and trademark statements for these products. America’s Alfalfa, America’s Alfalfa logo and Traffic Tested are registered trademarks of Forage Genetics, LLC.

Nontraditional forages are taking root by Daniel Olson


ISTORICALLY, dairy rations have utilized corn silage and alfalfa as the primary forage components. While farms have had a lot of success feeding these forages, growing environmental pressure, competition for land, and the need to grow more digestible fiber per acre has pushed many progressive dairies to “alternative� forage options. On our clients’ farms, we have begun utilizing a variety of alternative forages with the goal of having the highest neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD30) and the lowest indigestibility (uNDF240) while also producing the highest yield of both tons of forage and digestible fiber (dNDF30) per acre. Often, our client dairies are producing up to twice the yield of digestible NDF per acre with these forages compared to more conventional rotations. The forage systems we design need to provide adequate acres for nutrient application every month of the forage harvesting season to remove application pressure in the spring and fall.

14 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

Alternative forages help us create those application windows.

Many options available A list of forages we commonly recommend for high-producing dairies are composed of perennial, European cool-season grasses, especially meadow fescue, tall fescue, and festulolium; legumes, especially red clovers and vetches; brown midrib (BMR) warm-season annuals such as sorghum-sudangrass, sudangrass, and millet; winter small grains such as triticale, and when it gets too late for planting triticale, cereal rye. We have also started using a lot of Italian and annual ryegrass, either mixed with warm-season annuals in the North or with winter small grains. Specific varieties of these crops are chosen for yield, high digestibility, and low indigestibility. Rarely do we recommend these crops as monocultures. We look for combinations that work well together and fit the ambient climate for the dairy or livestock operation in question. The forages we recommend will depend somewhat

on the area of the country, but many times it is just that the combination of cultivars and species (cocktail mixes) are more different in their timing. Obviously, for example, warm-season annuals can be planted much earlier in the spring in Texas than in northern Wisconsin or Upper Michigan. To discover which varieties work well together, extensive plots have been established over the last 15 years at our research locations. On the Olson Farm, we have planted plots in a crisscrossing pattern. Each tested legume may be planted in a north-south direction and various grasses are planted east-west, creating a grid of hundreds of combinations. Each grass and each legume have two or more patches for observation. Often the plants that work well together are ones with different topand bottom-growth characteristics, so we are able to best use all the resources nature gives us. Notice that alfalfa is not on our list. There are some areas where alfalfa DANIEL OLSON The author is a seventh generation dairy farmer from Lena, Wis., and the founder of Forage Innovations, a forage consulting company.

does extremely well, and those farmers may have a hard time giving it up. Still, using our three metrics of high yield, high digestibility, and low indigestibility, alfalfa does not stand up to the crops we usually recommend.

Horizontal storage preferred Typically, these crops need to be stored horizontally. Adjustments in forage choices can be made where a tower silo must be utilized. Many of these forages will be harvested at the top of the moisture guidelines (65% moisture or more) and should be treated with homofermentative, lactic acid-producing bacterial inoculants rather than heterofermenters, which produce lactic and acetic acids. Wide-swathing will speed the dry down rate and preserve sugars. With sorghums, we will normally have an underlying forage that will provide somewhat of a carpeting effect to mitigate ash (soil) pickup.

Risk mitigation With weather patterns becoming more erratic, we feel that in many cases cocktail mixes of various annuals will help to mitigate that risk. In the Upper Midwest and Northeast, we are combining BMR sorghum-sudangrass, Italian ryegrass, and legumes in the same mix. During a “normal” year, the sorghum-sudangrass will be dominant over the first few cuttings in July and August, and then the Italian ryegrass will come on strong in the fall as temperatures cool down. Of course, drier, hotter weather will favor the warm-season crop and cooler, wetter weather will favor the cool-season crop, so there is an element of risk mitigation even though the cocktail may look different each year. In some areas, because of predictable weather patterns that disfavor one species or the other, the disfavored species would not be in the cocktail.

How they’re fed Most of our dairies are still feeding corn silage at about 50% to 60% of the forage dry matter (DM). The remaining forage is made up of alternative forages. The large digestible fiber pool that these crops provide allow us to virtually eliminate straw and other fiber sources like cottonseed and by-products. The highest percentage of this feed will be digested and can greatly enhance feed efficiency. The concept for this system stemmed from research by Rick Grant, president of the W.H. Miner Institute, which compared digestible fiber energy to

starch energy. Mid-lactation cows were fed an extremely high amount of fiber from mature BMR sorghum-sudangrass (SxS) silage. That diet was compared to the same ration but with corn silage (CS) instead of the SxS. Two groups were fed either 35% of the DM of 66.2% NDF SxS or the same amount of 36.8% NDF CS. Another two groups received 45% of their DM as SxS or CS. Ten percent of the forage was haycrop silage in each diet (see table).

Choose nontraditional forages that fit your feed needs and climate.

The SxS diets were 40.3% and 48.2% NDF and the CS diets were 31.1% and 34.2% NDF. The total starch in the diet for the SxS was allowed to drop to 16.9% and 9.5%, respectively. Consequently, and not surprisingly, the dry matter intake (DMI) dropped to 44.3 pounds and 38.8 pounds per day in the SxS diets. The DMIs and starch levels were more typical for the CS diets. Anyone would think looking at this evidence that the SxS diets were a train wreck. However, the SxS cows in both diet groups gained a pound per day during the trial, and the CS cows had very little body weight change. There was no significant difference in milk production, and the SxS produced a higher percent butterfat. Milk efficiency (fat-corrected

milk/DMI) greatly improved. Although we can’t push high-group cows to these NDF levels, the concept was intriguing. Over the last few years, we have worked with nutritionists to develop NDF and uNDF parameters and have found that we can improve feed efficiency by 5% to 10% without sacrificing production or triggering body weight loss.

Final thoughts We strive for ground cover on every acre as much as possible, encouraging the use of winter triticale or cereal rye after corn silage harvest. It’s important to choose a corn silage hybrid at a maturity level that will help make this possible nearly every year. In our forage systems, about half of the acres are in corn silage every year. This means that every crop of silage follows a previous year’s alternative forage crop. First-year corn is the least expensive and most productive crop we can grow, and so we want to maximize those acres. By rotating aggressively with annuals, we are able to achieve that goal. There are always places to apply manure in these flexible forage systems. You are not tied to application windows when you should be planting or harvesting crops. High-yielding grasses have a high level of phosphorus uptake and efficiently utilize the nutrients during the growing season. By looking outside the corn-alfalfa box on every acre, progressive dairy farmers can lower ration costs and improve productivity and profitability on their farms while solving nutrient management issues and lowering risk in years when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. •

Performance of Holstein cows fed either BMR sorghum-sudangrass or corn silage-based diets BMR SxS SxS silage, % of DM


Corn silage 44.0

Corn silage, % of DM





NDF, % of DM





Starch, %





Sugar, % of DM









DMI, lbs/day

% > 0.75 inches





BW change, lbs/4 weeks





3.5% FCM, lbs/day










Rumen pH





All diets contained 10% haycrop silage. The SxS and corn silage were 66.2% and 36.8% NDF and 58.3% and 45.9% NDFD30, respectively.

January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 15

Your Checkoff Dollars At Work

Manure value extends beyond yield Hay & Forage Grower is featuring results of research projects funded through the Alfalfa Checkoff, officially named the U.S. Alfalfa Farmer Research Initiative, administered by National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA). The checkoff program facilitates farmer-funded research.

16 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

talk with producers, they don’t always see that. One of the things we hope to get at with this soil microbiological work is why that yield benefit is there in some years, and why it is not so much in other years,” he added. Gamble continued, “Hopefully, we have good soil data and microbiological data to evaluate and ask if it is a fertility thing or is there something else that is causing this decline. Maybe there’s a change in the microbiological community by Year 2 and the yields are just lower because of this change.” Checkoff research showed spring manure applications brought a limited effect on the composition and diversity of microbial communities, and that high manure rates significantly impacted soil fungal, but not bacterial, community compositions. However, Gamble pointed out, that was from just one year of data. With ARS funding, he, Castle, and other ARS collaborators from Idaho, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin expanded the manure project and formed the Dairy Agroecosystem Working Group (DAWG). One of DAWG’s goals is to

Joshua Gamble

determine the long-term effects of a one-time manure application. The researchers were intrigued by previous ARS work in Idaho, showing manure applications provide a “legacy effect” in soil and can cause unusual spikes in nitrogen availability as well as other phenomena not yet explained. “Their (Idaho) findings


Corn grain yield by crop

1. High manure rates improved firstyear corn and first-year alfalfa yield in alfalfa-corn rotations. Second-year corn yields were lower than first-year corn, regardless of fertility treatment. 2. Bacterial community diversity varied with sampling date and was greatest following fall harvest. Fungal diversity varied significantly by sampling date; seasonal differences were greater in alfalfa than in corn. 3. High manure rates significantly impacted soil fungal community compositions. 4. Fungal communities were consistently correlated with available soil potassium across all sites.

■ Corn year 1

■ Corn year 2

200 150

Bushels ac-1

FIRST step in understanding the effects of dairy manure on yield in a corn-alfalfa rotation — as well as on soil microbial communities — has been made through research funded by the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance’s Alfalfa Checkoff. “I hope we can bring some new knowledge on the impact of manure on soil health,” said Joshua Gamble, research agronomist at USDAARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. He and Sarah Castle, an ARS soil microbiologist, established corn-alfalfa research plots on three Minnesota JOSHUA GAMBLE sites in the spring of $32,621 2019, including onetime raw dairy manure slurry applications. They are also studying the alfalfa rotation effect, in which the legume fixes nitrogen that benefits subsequent crops, and how or what it may contribute to soil microbial communities. At each field site, treatments included the following: 1. A manure application at the agronomic recommended rate — a low manure rate. 2. A manure application at a high manure rate. 3. Recommended conventional fertilizer rate. 4. A control plot receiving no nutrient inputs. Soil cores were taken for soil chemical and biological analyses, and yields were measured for each crop. The one year of data showed that high manure rates increased the yield of first-year corn following alfalfa (totaling 186 bushels per acre at one location). Second-year corn yields were lower with all fertility treatments (see graph). “Previous studies have shown alfalfa improves subsequent corn yields, especially in Year 1 of the rotation into corn,” Gamble said. “Except when you

100 50 0 Grand Rapids



Grain yield was higher for first-year corn than for second-year corn. This trend was significant across all three sites, although it was more pronounced at Lamberton and Waseca.

suggest that even short-term or single manure applications can influence soil properties, and likely soil microbes, to the benefit of crops for years following application,” Gamble wrote in his research report. This continuing research, he added, may help answer how long manure-application benefits should last, and how often manure should be applied or alfalfa

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be included in a rotation to maximize those benefits. “If we see these benefits in manure and can quantify them and understand how long they last, perhaps there is more economic value to that manure,” Gamble said. “Dairy producers are most likely applying manure every year. They have manure and need to use it. But I also think there

is a benefit here for grain producers who don’t have livestock. It might make sense to ship it a little further if a grain producer knows he will get a soil health benefit that lasts five years, for example. That way it might help both the dairy farmer and the grain producer.” For the complete report, visit www. alfalfa.org. •

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12/13/19 10:13 AM January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 17


by John Goeser


MAGINE sitting down at your favorite supper club and looking at the menu with friends and family. If you’re not familiar with a supper club, picture a restaurant similar to a steakhouse, except that a waiter or waitress brings your party a menu in a bar area prior to seating your group at the table. The order is placed ahead of being seated, and your party is only brought to the table when the food is nearly ready. I share this anecdote because one aspect of the experience is that the salad comes out prior to the entrees. Salad and greens are an important part of a meal because the fibrous food provides some ballast; salad is the least and slowest digested food consumed, which helps avoid overeating. Think of fiber in a dairy or beef diet in the same way. Fiber provides bulk to diets — it’s the most important factor to account for when evaluating forages and developing dairy or beef diets. Despite the many different discussions around fiber digestibility and undigestible fiber, total fiber content is always my starting point in evaluating forage quality.

Like your laundry Cornell University’s Peter Van Soest and others defined fiber in ruminant nutrition as the neutral detergent insoluble residue after a laboratory assay that is similar to a laundry rinse cycle with clothing. Forage analysis reports list fiber as aNDF, which depicts neutral detergent fiber. The “a” stands for amylase. Amylase is important to break down starch in the forage sample and wash it out so that only neutral insoluble fiber remains. Recognizing that fiber is the insoluble residue left after an hour long, boiling laundry detergent rinse, you can speculate why it is the least digestible nutrient, and more fiber detracts from your forage energy value per pound or ton. Dairy nutrition experts have found that fiber digestibility is a critical component to understand when formulating diets for optimum feed conversion efficiency. Fiber digestion is confusing, but the nutrition revelation comes due 18 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

to the fact that total tract fiber digestion can range from as low as 30% to greater than 70%. Percentages can be confusing, so think of this fiber fact this way: For every 10 pounds of fiber consumed, the poorest performing diets provide just over 3 pounds of digestible fiber and the best diets can achieve upward of 7 pounds! Each pound of digestible fiber acts just like starch or sugar in providing enough energy for about 3 to 4 pounds of milk per cow. However, fiber is always less digestible than the other nutrients, including starch, sugar, protein, and fat. So, while fiber exhibits a wide range in digestibility due to seed genetics, growing conditions, and agronomic management, fiber is always the first limiting factor in diet energy. This leads us back to the main point — don’t forget about the total fiber in your forage.

Have fiber goals Total fiber content in corn silage, hay, and haylage can range from as low as 30% to greater than 70%, which are the same percentages as described above for fiber digestibility. However, in this case the fiber percentages represent the fiber amount relative to the total forage dry matter. At 30% aNDF, this can be thought of as 3 pounds of fiber in 10 pounds of hay. With this low-fiber, high-quality forage, the remaining 70% of the forage is composed of more digestible and valuable protein, starch, sugar, fat, or other nutrients. At 70% fiber, or 7 pounds of fiber out of 10 pounds total hay, the energetic value for this forage is severely limited because 30% or less of the forage is higher energy nutrients. The goal for high-quality forage is typically to achieve less than 40% aNDF for corn silage or alfalfa hay/haylage. With grass hays or silages, the goal stretches up to 45% to 50%, recognizing that grasses typically contain less protein than alfalfa but have exceptional fiber digestibility when harvested at an immature stage.

Monitor fiber levels The way to improve haycrop forage quality is to monitor crop maturity

Mike Rankin

Don’t forget the fiber

Keep a close eye on fiber content when developing rations

throughout the season. Fiber increases with maturity as the stems elongate and make up a larger proportion of the plant. Do not rely on the calendar for cutting decisions; there is no consistent cutting interval that will routinely yield less than 40% fiber. Work with your agronomist and nutritionist to check fiber levels in the growing hay crop and recognize the standing crop fiber value will likely rise by around 2% to 4% during harvest and storage due to leaf and storage losses. With corn silage, sorghum, or other standing cereal crops chopped for silage, seed genetics and harvest maturity also influence the fiber level. With these crops, the fiber is diluted out by grain, so more grain equates to less fiber. Generally speaking, more grain equates to more energy. However, fiber digestibility lessens and grain hardness intensifies as starch is laid down and the kernel maturity moves past 1/2 milkline and toward black layer. Work to balance the correct harvest timing and achieve less than 40% fiber but also optimal maturity for ensiling and carbohydrate digestibility. Just like the salad coming first at the supper club, your farm will benefit by recognizing the fiber in forage is the number one determinant of quality. • JOHN GOESER The author is the director of nutrition research and innovation with Rock River Lab Inc, and adjunct assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dairy Science Department.


by Jim Gerrish

How low can you go?

Stover fields differ Traditional thinking suggests harvesting 30 cow-days per acre (CDA) with set stocking on cornstalk fields. I usually write in terms of animal-unit days (AUD), but since most cattle producers think in terms of how many cows can they graze on stalks, I will use CDA in this article. A cow-day is generally between 30 to 35 pounds of dry matter. Thus, 30 CDA should be about equal to 1,000 pounds per acre of dry matter removed. A 100-bushel crop would be expected to produce 5,600 pounds of stover per acre while a 200-bushel corn crop would produce over 11,000 pounds per acre of stover. Does it make sense to plan for just 30 CDA of grazing from the 200-bushel crop field? If leaving behind 2 tons per acre of stover is good enough on a 100-bushel field, then we should be able to harvest three or four times as many CDA from a crop yielding 200 bushels per acre. Some cattle producers using controlled strip-grazing on cornstalks are routinely harvesting over 100 CDA. When it comes to reducing wintering costs,

going too low while wet country or irrigated producers are not going low enough.

that level of yield is a game changer. The bottom line on grazing crop residues is that most producers could probably “go lower” than what they are currently doing.

Perennials are more complex

Take it all? What about grazing annual forages in the winter? How low should we take those? If it is a stockpiled summer annual forage, there is no expectation of any kind of regrowth, so the entire crop is available for grazing. Or is it?

Gauge optimum grazing height on expected moisture availability.

Shouldn’t we want to leave some residual behind for soil protection? As with the corn residue, I think there is a minimum amount of aboveground plant residue that should be left behind after grazing for the benefit of the soil. In a wet environment, I tend to use 2,000 pounds per acre as the target residue and 1,000 pounds per acre in a drier environment. In the dry environment, the total yield might only be 1,500 pounds per acre. That means our objective would be to graze off only about 500 pounds per acre or 16 to 17 CDA. In a wet environment, that same annual forage cover crop might yield 5,000 pounds per acre, allowing us to remove 3,000 pounds per acre or about 100 CDA. What I observe on my travels all around the country is most producers grazing in dry environments are removing too much biomass. Meanwhile, most producers in wet environments are not harvesting near the CDA that they could be getting if they were using controlled grazing. The bottom line on summer annuals grazed in winter is dryland producers are

MIke Rankin


HEN it comes to feeding cows in the wintertime, grazed forage in the field is usually the lowest cost feed source. Grazing crop residues, annual forages, and stockpiled perennial pasture or range are all good opportunities to lower the cost of overwintering your cows compared to feeding hay or silage. When grazing crop residues, we need to balance feeding the cows with how much residue should be left behind for soil health and protection. There is obviously a lot more crop residue biomass associated with a 200-bushel per acre corn crop than with a 100-bushel crop. The general principle is that grain and stover yields are approximately equal. Thus, the 200-bushel crop has twice the biomass residue of a 100-bushel crop. If our land management objective is to leave a set amount of residue behind after grazing the stalks, then we can take many more grazing days off each acre with the higher crop yield.

Winter grazing management for perennial grasses gets complicated as we expect the plants to survive the winter and resume growth in the spring. I always emphasize the need to leave green leaf residual following every grazing event in the growing season. That is because leaves are the photosynthetic factory providing the energy to drive new plant growth. Without active leaves, plant recovery following grazing is much slower for most species. Do leaves that turn brown in autumn become green leaves again in the spring? No, they do not. So, why can’t we graze off all the leaves over winter? Speaking strictly from the standpoint of plant physiology, it is perfectly safe to remove all of those leaves. Where the problem lies is we need some insulation for the plant crowns and the soil itself to prevent freezing damage and potential winterkill. The farther north you live, the more important it is to leave more leaf cover behind after winter grazing. New leaves that develop in the spring generally come from leaf buds being fed by stored carbohydrates. For most bunchgrasses, that stored energy is in the stem bases, not below ground as many ranchers believe. Grazing perennial grasses too severely in the winter hinders their survival capacity and removes the energy source for new spring growth. Far too many cattle producers routinely graze too severely in the dormant season, reducing spring growth rate and production potential for the season. For perennial pastures, there is a limit as to how low you can go. • JIM GERRISH The author is a rancher, author, speaker, and consultant with over 40 years of experience in grazing management research, outreach, and practice. He has lived and grazed livestock in hot, humid Missouri and cold, dry Idaho.

January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 19

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uality matters to eastern Alabama hay grower Mahlon Richburg. If his hay gets hit with even a sprinkle of rain, he refuses to sell it.

water utilization in hay and forage production. In fact, when applied according to label directions, producers could see a higher-quality forage produced during their first harvest.

The retired ag teacher raises Angus cattle and sells hay to horse customers from his farm in Lee County.

“I’m just excited to see an option that I have personally been able to watch over three or four years,” Richburg says. He treated all of his fields for ryegrass in the fall and plans to treat again this winter to control crabgrass next season.

“The horse customer is looking for hay that has a bright color to it or a green color to it. They’re looking for hay that doesn’t have dust in it. They’re looking for hay that doesn’t have weeds in it. They’re looking for hay that hasn’t been rained on,” Richburg says. “If it gets a sprinkle of rain or a shower of rain on it, then we keep it and feed it to the cows.”

Four years ago, a new herbicide caught his eye during a test plot tour. The brightgreen grass stood out from the others. When Rezilon® herbicide, the product from the test plots, became available, he used a demonstration sample to control crabgrass on his farm.

“The most troublesome weed that we have right now is crabgrass,” Richburg says. “We have been spraying for a number of years with a product that offers some control, but it’s primarily early season control and it didn’t last throughout the year. But we’ve been trying to control crabgrass for excited a number of years.”

I’m about this product, and part of it is because I’ve watched it all these years.

The new herbicide provides better hay quality by controlling summer and winter annual broadleaf weeds and grasses. Richburg left a strip in the middle of a field untreated when he applied the product last February. The results, he says, are very obvious. “I took a picture on my phone, and it’s just like you drew a line right there,” he says. “I’ve had some people ask me about Rezilon herbicide, and I show them that picture. It’s on my phone. And it’s pretty vivid. It’s just night and day.” Indaziflam is an innovative active ingredient that primarily targets broadleaf and annual grass weeds in established bermudagrass. With indaziflam, Rezilon herbicide provides hay producers with a new mode of action for effective weed control. By eliminating weeds, Rezilon herbicide also helps to increase fertilizer and

Rezilon herbicide has long-lasting residual activity for extended control of weeds throughout the season. For best results, it should be applied well before weed emergence. This is the ideal time to apply Rezilon herbicide. February application can control weeds and improve quality later this spring.

Once applied, Rezilon herbicide can sit on the soil surface for some time with no degradation from sunlight while waiting on rainfall for activation. Overall, the herbicide controls more than 60 broadleaf and annual grass weeds, including species that have developed herbicide resistance, such as ryegrass. Using Rezilon herbicide as directed also reduces the time and money hay growers would otherwise need to spend on additional herbicide applications. Ready to raise the quality of your hay production? Now is the time to apply Rezilon herbicide. Scan the QR code for more information and find us online at Rezilon.com.

ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL INSTRUCTIONS. Always read and follow label instructions. Bayer, the Bayer Cross, and Rezilon are registered trademarks of Bayer. Not all products are registered in all states. For additional product information, call toll-free 1-800-331-2867. www.environmentalscience.bayer.us. Bayer Environmental Science, a Division of Bayer Crop Science LP, 5000 CentreGreen Way, Suite 400, Cary, NC 27513. ©2020 Bayer Group.

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12/7/20 1:08 PM

Clint Finney

Stockpiling grass is simply a great way to shorten the hay-feeding period.

Have a plan for winter hay feeding by Clint Finney


N A grazing operation, how do we decide when and where to feed hay? This may seem like a silly question, but the answer is more complicated than one might think. Most would say we feed hay to get through the winter, a time when grazing isn’t an option. Hay might also be fed hay during the traditional summer slump, when forage growth slows, or if drought conditions exist, no matter what the season. Hopefully, hay is being fed not only to meet livestock nutritional needs but also to protect pastures from being overgrazed. If some sort of management-intensive grazing (MiG) is practiced, and in most cases it should be, overgrazing is one of the first things to avoid if vigorous pasture regrowth is to be resumed after a period of slow growth. One of the founding principles of MiG is reducing expenses to make an operation more profitable. What is the biggest cost to any grazing operation? It’s the feeding of stored forages or hay. Stored forages of any kind cost much more than animal-harvested pasture. It takes a lot of time, effort, machinery, and fuel to harvest stored forages. It 22 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

really doesn’t matter if we do the harvesting work ourselves or if we buy the hay. In fact, for small operations, the costs of producing versus buying hay are often similar. So, why do we feed hay where we do? Answers often vary with the farmers I work with. Most of them cite things like convenience, proximity to a water source, or it’s always been done this way. These are some valid reasons, but more thought needs to go into our hay-feeding strategy, especially during winter when every day that our animals are consuming stored forages costs our operation extra time and money. Let’s take a closer look at some winter-feeding options and highlight their advantages and disadvantages. Create a sacrifice area: Choose a designated area of pasture on which to feed hay. It is best to utilize a small area and not allow animals access to the entire pasture. Hay is hauled to this area throughout the winter to be fed either with or without bale feeders. Here in Ohio, these areas tend to get torn up over winter and turned to mud. Sacrifice areas will usually need reseeding in the spring. If using a sacrifice area, make sure the site has

a higher and drier soil type. Locate the area far away from a stream to prevent runoff from contaminating any nearby surface waters. Unroll round bales of hay: This approach can be used in much the same way as a sacrifice area, but it also has many of the same challenges. Large round bales of hay are rolled out as needed. Thus, the hay is spread out in a long line, allowing all the animals access to hay at one time instead of around a bale. This can be a blessing and curse. While it does allow more animals access to hay at one time, it also results in more wasted hay than other hay-feeding methods. This can be a great way to feed lower quality hay, where the animals can pick through and eat what they want and leave the rest as organic matter and nutrients for the soil. CLINT FINNEY The author is a soil conservation technician for USDA-NRCS in Hopedale, Ohio. His family also farms and direct markets pork, grassfed beef, and lamb.

Bale graze: This approach also follows a lot of the same principles as using a sacrifice area, except that with bale grazing, the bales are typically set stocked in the field well before their use. The bales are normally arranged in rows, on 20- to 25-foot centers. The number of rows usually corresponds to the numbers of bales being fed per day or feeding period. Bale grazing also differs from a sacrifice area in that the livestock are given a new set of bales and a fresh strip of the field for each feeding period. This gives animals a clean area each new feeding period and only damages a portion of the field at a time. Bale grazing is a great system for spreading manure nutrients across a pasture and giving new life to a poor-quality field. Because the bales are preset, there is less soil damage and compaction from equipment. Like sacrifice areas, though, these fields can get rather muddy, especially near the water source, and may need to be reseeded. Construct a heavy-use pad (HUP): This is a designed pad of concrete or gravel specifically installed for feeding hay or doing other high-traffic activities. This allows a producer to bring livestock onto a hard surface during winter-feeding operations to limit the muddy conditions encountered in other outwintering-type systems. Of course, HUPs require additional practices in order to be totally mud-free. Water will need to be supplied to livestock, preferably on the pad. Access roads for machinery and livestock traffic also need consideration. HUPs may also require some sort of runoff prevention, such as a roof or curb, as well as an animal waste storage facility. One problem with a HUP is animal comfort. They are usually smaller areas and can get sloppy at times. Adding nearby mounds of soil or stone provide the animals somewhere to escape the sloppy conditions on the HUP. Build a dry-pack or deep-bedded barn: With this option, a barn is built in such a way to allow the hay to be fed inside while the bedding and manure builds up over the feeding period. Either a feedbunk or bale rings can be used to feed hay. The downside for many producers is that straw, sawdust, or waste hay is needed to allow the manure to stack on its own. While this is one of the more expensive hay-feeding options, it does allow for animal comfort while ensuring that manure

A heavy-use pad helps eliminate muddy conditions.

runoff is not a problem. All things considered, the cost of these types of buildings may not be much more than other systems when the added benefits are considered.

Shorten the hay-feeding season We can reduce the need for hay and the area needed to feed it by extending the grazing season. The growing season and the grazing season are not necessarily the same time frame. You can allow forage to grow and defer grazing until after the growing season ends. This can be done with annual forage species but also by stockpiling perennial

grasses. Tall fescue is especially beneficial for this purpose. It will produce a sort of standing hay and withstand the harshest of winters while still providing quality feed. The only challenges are deep snow and muddy conditions. Extending the grazing season with stockpiled grass or winter annuals, while also slightly reducing your herd size to allow for extra forage growth, could enhance profit per acre over the entire grazing operation. Of course, to take full advantage of this practice, it should be a part of a MiG system. Ultimately, the best winter-feeding system will use a combination of several of these options. If you’re looking to improve the winter feeding strategy on your operation, call the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office, Soil and Water Conservation Department (SWCD), or extension office. Also, consider attending local grazing council meetings or pasture walks and discuss these options with other like-minded producers. Videos are also available on the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council YouTube channel. •


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by Adam Verner

Avoid round baler breakdowns with some hours in the shop this winter.

MIke Rankin

Get your round baler in game shape S THE snow flies around most of the country, it gives us a chance to look back at last season and decide what good and bad things happened. It also gives us a chance to look forward and decide if any equipment needs to be replaced or if just some maintenance is needed. For many forage producers, the round baler is the most expensive piece of equipment that is owned outside of the tractors. The ever-increasing expense of purchasing a new baler makes “trading up” harder each year, which results in having to run a baler longer between each purchase cycle. The time is now to tear down your baler and give it a winter inspection. Sure, dealerships run winter specials, too, but by doing some of the work yourself, you will better understand how the baler operates. It is a lot easier to learn how the net wrapping mechanism works while in your shop than on a 100-degree day with fire ants crawling up your leg.

Start at the front One thing to be sure to inspect is the power takeoff (PTO) shaft. Most have constant velocity (CV) joints on the tractor side, and when the cross starts to get some wear, the shaft wobble can lead to issues not only with the shaft itself but also for the tractor’s PTO. You might notice wear on the shaft or even a seal leaking on the tractor’s PTO. Next, move back to the main gearbox. In most cases it is a T gearbox. We always recommend changing this 24 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

gearbox oil every few years or 5,000 bales. Sometimes, these gearboxes sit at odd angles, so make sure it is at the proper level when checking and filling them with gear oil. If your baler has a T gearbox, then you should remove the shields on the driveline to inspect the gearbox seals, and this allows you to get a good look at the bearings on each side of the baler. Bearings can sometimes be tricky; be sure you check that each one is taking grease and that there is no play or “slop” in the bearing. Some bearings are difficult to see behind the sprockets. You can use a pry bar and try to force the bearing to move up or side-to-side. If you find any play, replace the bearing. Attached to the same shaft are the drive sprockets. These should have even wear on both sides of each tooth and not much wear on the point. Once the sprocket starts to show wear on the point of the tooth, it is likely that even a new chain will not seat down in the bottom of the sprocket notches. As for the chains, first loosen the tension sprocket and see if the chain has any side-to-side play. A good chain should be stiff when turned on its side. If it curves or moves freely, it needs to be replaced. The hay pickup mechanism is often overlooked except for the occasional tine replacement. However, this is really where most problems can start. Inconsistent feeding can lead to lopsided bales and clogged balers. There are a few manufacturers on the market that offer camless pickups. These have fewer

parts to worry about. Most camless pickups just have one bearing and one sprocket on each end. The more common cam-track style pickup has bearings on each end of each row of tines. These bearings run in a “cam track,” causing the tines to fold out of the way. It is extremely important to check these bearings each season and, for high bale volumes, twice each year. I also recommend replacing the pickup chain about every 5,000 bales. This chain usually is the smallest one on the baler, but it will give you the most issues.

Know the tying system The most common area for a daily issue is with the net-wrapping system or the twine-tie system on older balers. It is important for the baler operator to really understand all the steps involved in your baler’s tying system. You should be able to activate the tying cycle from your monitor and watch the complete sequence, which allows you to identify where problems might occur. Having this area clean is also at the top of my list of daily maintenance tips. Manually operate the tying cycle a few times so you are familiar with the sequence and to see if there are any worn components. Moving to the baling chamber, first relieve the hydraulic pressure off the belts to be able to check for bearing play. Go around to each bearing and pry on it to see if there is any movement. Roll them around to see if you hear any grinding and, if greaseable, make sure all the bearings are taking grease. While at the rear of the baler, jack up the axle and grease or repack the wheel bearings as well. They tend to often get overlooked. There is not a much better feeling than pulling out of your first field next spring after rolling up bales without a mechanical breakdown. Along with it will be the satisfaction that your winter service time was well worth the effort! • ADAM VERNER The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

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by Mike Rankin


XCEPTIONAL cattlemen are not always exceptional forage managers. But when the two enterprises do come together and are firing on all cylinders, it’s a marriage that yields remarkable results. Remarkable results are what I heard Lydia Yon speak of at a cattlemen’s conference several years ago. I was impressed by the back and front story of Yon Family Farms in Ridge Spring, S.C. The scribble in my notebook read something like this: If in South Carolina, stop at this farm. I was, and I did. Descending the long farm driveway, it was easy to discern the presence of high-end cattle and good forage. I would soon learn that this operation had much more to offer in the form of a heaping dose of opportunity, humility, compassion, and a back story that the folks in Hollywood couldn’t even contrive. 26 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

“There’s never been anything else I wanted to do,” Kevin Yon said as we sat and visited at the farm’s home base. “Seedstock Angus is our product, but the real profit center is the forages. We just use our Angus cattle to harvest it and give us something that’s saleable,” he added. Kevin and Lydia Yon have farmed here since 1996. All three of their children and a daughter-in-law are also involved. The current operation is anchored by about 1,600 brood cows, which calve in both the spring (January through March) and fall (September through November). The livestock are supported by several thousand acres of various forage crops. About 450 bulls are sold each year and all of the steers are fed out on-farm.

On the line “We’ve always been pushed on land space,” Yon explained. “I like developing land to a forage-cattle type system. We’ve converted about every type of land imaginable to forage, including

timber and row-crop land.” There is much about the farm that is unique, but perhaps topping that list is the fact that it lies right on the fall line between the Piedmont Fescue Belt and the Coastal Plain sandhills. “In one direction our pastures are tall fescue, and the other direction they’re bermudagrass and bahiagrass,” Yon noted. “Toxic fescue is a challenge, but it’s what we have,” he said. “When you’re marketing seedstock, it’s good to know which cattle can tolerate it better than others. We try to mitigate the effect as best we can.” On the sandy soils, Yon utilizes hybrid bermudagrass, bahiagrass, and crabgrass. In the fall, Yon will no-till winter annuals into his warm-season pastures. This can include combinations of wheat, oats, triticale, ryegrass, and sometimes crimson clover. “We’ve also got some land that goes from a winter annual to a summer annual with no perennial crops at all,” Yon explained. Cereal forages provide the backbone

Winter cereals are paramount to the success of Yon Family Farms’ grazing program during the winter and spring.

Yon Family Farms

for winter pastures. The Yons grow their own triticale, wheat, and oat seed. This ensures a seed supply for the 1,500 acres of small grains that they plant annually.

Multiple forage sources “We’ve started to use more forage oats lately with some of the new Southern varieties that are coming out of the University of Florida,” Yon said. “We love ryegrass and use improved varieties, but getting a reliable seed supplier is sometimes a challenge.” For some fields, Yon will triple crop a winter annual, followed by corn, and then plant a summer annual such as sorghum-sudangrass or millet. He utilizes the brown midrib (BMR) trait in some of the corn, sorghums, and millets to achieve higher forage digestibility. The summer annuals are either grazed or made into baleage. He noted that the past couple of years sugarcane aphid has been a problem in the sorghums. The 500 acres of corn silage grown on the farm are used in the finishing

ration and for growing young bulls and heifers during periods when pastures are less productive. They plant the corn themselves, but hire a custom harvester. The corn silage is meticulously packed and stored in bunker silos. Yon is becoming a big fan of crabgrass. Although an annual, it reseeds itself every year, so some of his fields consist of a winter annual-crabgrass rotation. They currently use a mixture of Red River and Impact crabgrass varieties. Both tall fescue and bermudagrass are stockpiled to fill the summer-fall transition time period. Yon likes to start limit grazing the winter annuals about the end of October. Those will be grazed through the winter unless it gets so cold that they stop growing or they have wet periods where cattle will do too much damage to the pastures. During these periods, cattle are moved to sacrifice paddocks. When asked about where legumes fit into the system, Yon explained that they don’t do a lot of overseeding. They will use annual legumes such as crimson clover, which is interseeded in the fall. “We use predominantly poultry litter as fertilizer, and that brings with it some pretty high broadleaf weed pressure, which we control with herbicides,” he said. “As such, it’s hard to keep clover in our stands of grass.” Perennial legumes are a different story for Yon. He’s been growing alfalfa for the past 20 years, but in the last six years has routinely seeded alfalfa into his bermudagrass stands. It was a second-cutting alfalfa baleage that garnered Yon the grand champion forage trophy at last year’s Southeastern Hay Contest held in Moultrie, Ga. The alfalfa had been no-tilled into a stand of Coastal bermudagrass.

High on baleage “Baleage has revolutionized the cattle business,” Yon exclaimed. “It allows us to put up high-quality forage that can be used as a supplement.” The Yons put up about 8,000 round bales per year, with roughly 40% of those being baleage and the remainder being dry hay, which are primarily bermudagrass. However, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, they will make baleage out of bermudagrass. “Tifton 85 bermudagrass, put up at the right time as baleage, is one of the best forages that we have,” Yon said. Yon doesn’t make any fescue hay, but

he is currently developing some Piedmont land and will plant a novel endophyte variety. “Maybe then we’ll make some fescue hay,” he predicted. A lot of the baleage is made in March and April out of their surplus of winter-annual forage acres. Their baler is equipped with a precutter to aid incorporation into a total mixed ration (TMR). Also, all of the baleage is inoculated at the baler. The TMR is used to supplement pastures based on the time of the year and the particular livestock’s nutrient needs. “We want to feed a high-forage ration, usually over 80% forage,” Yon said. “For the bulls, we target 3 pounds of gain per day. We get our energy from corn silage and protein and energy from the small grain baleage.” Always looking for a better and more economical mouse trap, Yon has

Mike Rankin

“Baleage has revolutionized the cattle business,” Kevin Yon said. “It can be used as an effective supplement.”

recently started to plant some grain sorghum and then harvests it as high-energy sorghum headlage. Once the grain heads are cut and ensiled, he lets the remaining plants tiller and harvests the fodder as baleage. Finally, Yon will utilize neighboring cotton and other row crop fields for grazeable residue. “We don’t use our crop residues enough as a forage resource,” he opined. Yon also bales a limited amount of small square bales to sell as a cash crop into the horse market. “I wish we could do more; it’s a good profit center, continued on following page >>> January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 27

Yon Family Farms

The growing Yon family, from left to right: Zoe Ruth Harrison, Reid Harrison, Sally Harrison, Kevin Yon, Lydia Yon, Corbin Yon, Drake Yon, Elloree Yon, and Nicole Yon.

but we need most of our forage for the cattle,” he said. Currently, a small percentage of Yon Family Farms is under center pivot irrigation. For a water source, Yon uses a large retention pond. Although the area receives about 50 inches of rain annually, one of Yon’s goals is to

get more acres under irrigation, which can be used in times of drought and to help get winter annuals off to a fast start in the fall.

Sustainability rules “In terms of the farm operation overall, we try to be holistic and

sustainable,” Yon said. Going back to 2008, Yon Family Farms was named the National Winner of the prestigious Environmental Stewardship Award, which is administered by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation. Yon has taken advantage of many Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs to improve their grazing operation and water conservation practices. “Using about 2 tons of poultry litter on every field, we never have to buy phosphorus, but we do have to purchase and apply some nitrogen and potassium,” Yon explained. “We also apply lime where it’s needed, and that’s some of the best money we invest.” On the fescue land, Yon usually doesn’t apply any poultry litter until late spring. “This encourages the summer grasses and helps to dilute the fescue in the heat of summer,” he said.

Family and then some While operations similar to Yon Family Farms are typically built over generations, Yon is a first-generation farmer. How he and his family got to this point is a story of hard work, some luck, and a group of neighbors who recognized a good farmer when they saw one (see the sidebar “A restroom and some candy”).



evin and Lydia Yon, both animal science majors, met at Clemson University. Lydia was raised on a beef cattle farm. Kevin’s grandparents were sharecroppers and owned a small farm. They instilled a love of agriculture in him, although his own father was not a farmer. The pair graduated college in the late 1980s . . . tough years for agriculture. Kevin was a year behind Lydia, and knowing they were going to be married, she stuck around school and got a master’s degree, researching controlled grazing. Following graduation, the couple got their dream job of managing an Angus operation near Columbia, S.C., although the end goal was to someday have their own operation. “We spent seven and a half wonderful years managing a farm for somebody else,” Kevin said. “Coming out of college we thought we knew it all, but it was a great experience to figure out how much we still had to learn. We’ve been doing that ever since.” 28 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

It was on that first job that the Yons learned both cows and forage. In fact, the farm even had a big hay business and a large horse division. “For a kid out of college, making hay for some pretty high-end horse trainers was a real challenge,” Kevin noted. “There was a lot of hay sniffing and tasting going on.” One December day, the Yons were called into the owner’s office and informed that their employer decided to get out of the cattle business. They were told that the cattle and themselves needed to be gone by June 1. At that time, the couple had three children under age 6 and were now in need of employment. “During our time there, we had developed a bull sale, and I had always delivered all of the bulls myself,” Kevin recalled. “Getting on other people’s farms is how we got a lot of good ideas on managing cattle and forages. I had been delivering bulls to the Ridge Spring area and always kind of liked it. One Sunday

after church, I loaded up the family in the car and we drove 60 miles to survey Ridge Spring. Lydia really liked the area but, at the time, there were no farms available to purchase.” Kevin continued, “Our middle son, Drake, kept saying he had to go to the restroom, which usually meant he wanted to stop and get some candy. So, we finally relented and stopped at the only store in town. While I waited outside for the potty and candy run to conclude, one of my bull customers from the area just happened to see me sitting in the parking lot.” Without knowing the predicament they were in, the acquaintance told Kevin that if he ever wanted to change his career direction, he had a little place they’d sell him and then would rent him some additional land. Kevin returned the very next day and consummated a deal to purchase 100 acres, which remains the home farm today. It was an abandoned peach

Yon Family Farms

Kevin Yon views seedstock Angus as the final product, but forages comprise the real profit center of their operation.

“We made a conscious effort to grow the farm so that at least one child could come back if they wanted,” Yon explained. “We also wanted to be big enough to involve more than just family labor. We wanted employees so that we could leave the farm if we needed or wanted to.” Not only did one child come back to the family farm . . . they all did. “It wasn’t a birthright,” Yon said. “The rule was that they had to stay away for four years, including college. During summers when they didn’t have classes, they had to find work or an internship somewhere else.” Like their parents, all three of the Yons’ children graduated from Clemson. These days, farm responsibilities are identified, but are not hard and fast, because Yon feels that everyone needs to have a working knowledge of the entire operation. The youngest son, Corbin, likes the crop farming, even though he also is involved with the cows. The middle child,

orchard with a little bit of permanent pasture on the backside. There was also a small tenant house that, according to Kevin, was in “pretty rough shape.” The Yons moved to Ridge Spring in June 1996 with a dream and 100 Angus cows that they purchased from their previous employer. The people that sold the Yons their land had a large commercial cattle operation. They rented the couple some additional land to keep their cattle. Kevin and Lydia managed the commercial herd for the farmer in exchange for the use of their tractors and haying equipment. They also grew their herd by using some of the commercial cows as embryo recipients for their registered Angus. Over the years, the Yons would pay off one tract of land and then were given the opportunity to buy another. In addition, as their reputation as good cattle and forage managers solidified in the area, cattlemen who were near retirement offered the Yons an opportunity to purchase their herds on a contract basis and rent their farms. This provided an opportunity for additional infrastructure and also to further build cow numbers. Kevin and Lydia don’t have to tell their children about the “good old days.” All five of them lived it together. That opportunity arose simply because a little boy wanted to go to the bathroom and get some candy. •

Drake, does a little of everything, including the feeding and nutrition. His wife, Nicole, is a food science major and is involved in the farm’s budding pecan business and retail store that is located in Ridge Spring. The Yons’ daughter, Sally, helps with a lot of the marketing and does a great deal of photography and sale videos. The Yons run a genomic test on every calf, and each breeding is done on paper to get the best match. Yon Family Farms supplies a livelihood to about 12 different families. “We’re very proud of that,” Yon said. “It’s a blessing and a huge responsibility.” The Yons also employ college interns every summer. The employee pool at Yon Family Farms is diverse. Among the group of workers are old and young, a former Navy Seal, and some who have battled substance addictions. During my visit, three disadvantaged young brothers from a broken home in town were seen clearing brush from a pasture. “We don’t put people in boxes, but take them for what they are and who they are,” Yon explained. “All of them work on our farm because they want to, and we’re willing to give them that chance.” Yon Family Farms is a large operation by most eastern U.S. standards. It was built on opportunity, hard work, and the synergistic relationship of good cows being intensively grazed on good forage. All three of these building blocks are still readily apparent to anyone who visits the farm today. Much of the opportunity rests in the next generation and those who work on the farm. As for Yon, he remains highly motivated and passionate about cows and people. “I’ve never woke up and wondered if I should be doing something else,” he concluded. •

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Mike Rankin

Forage feeding in the dairy minor leagues by Paul Dyk


T’S flashy to be in the major leagues. On dairies, the lactating cows are the big leagues, with most forage programs focused on producing highly digestible forages for this group. Nutritionists center their attention on stats like dry matter intake (DMI), undigested neutral detergent fiber (uNDF), and NDF digestibility at 30 hours (NDFD30). Manure is screened and corn silage is dissected, floated, and measured with an electronic caliper. Every great major league baseball team relies on their minor league affiliates to provide new talent year after year. The same is true for most top-notch dairy farms. A good forage program is needed to help make it happen. Let’s take a little trip down to the minors to scout the teams and consider some of the forage decisions that need to be made.

The Money Eaters Double A ball on dairies might be comparable to the heifer program. 30 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

While particularly important for generating new players for the big leagues, heifers utilize resources while generating no income. Heifers can consume a large amount of forage. It’s easy to forget that a 1,200-pound heifer can eat 25 pounds of forage per day (dry matter), not far from the 30 pounds of forage consumed by the lactating cow. For many dairies, the heifer operation may account for 20% to 35% of their forage needs, depending on the size of the heifer operation. Over the years, the best dairy farms have made high-quality forages the backbone of their success. Prebreeding heifers thrived on high-quality haylage and some corn silage. Postbreeding heifers can be the challenge. These heifers do not need the caloric intake younger heifers do and can easily become overconditioned if the forage quality is too high. For this group, bulky, low-energy forages are in demand. Traditionally, they received the forage that was harvested late or was rained on. As dairies have become better at harvesting forage, sufficient inventories of low-energy forages often become an issue.

For the breeding heifers, three options might be considered. First, limit feed heifers to reduce caloric intake on high-quality feed. For most folks with crowded heifer facilities (yes, the Double A team is almost always crowded with less than perfect facilities), this likely is not a viable option due to limited bunk space. Second, cut the high-quality forage with a very low-quality ingredient like straw, oat hulls, or corn stubble. While this can work, you need to have a place to store this cutter and the ability to handle it correctly (access to tub grinder). The third option is planning to harvest a forage designed for these heifers. Calling this a low-quality forage implies there is something wrong with it. That’s not the case. Think of it as a designated hitter . . . a forage with a purpose. A team meeting with the nutritionist and agronomist is a must. Discuss the options for your growing conditions. They might include a winter cereal like rye, a warm season sorghum-sudangrass, an earless tropical corn silage, or maybe an alternative forage that’s aerial seeded into standing corn.

Near to the bigs Triple A ball on dairies points to the dry cow and prefresh programs. These animals are about to make the big splash and represent about 12% to 18% of the lactating herd. Far-off dry cows (about 50% of the group) have similar nutritional needs to the growing heifers with an emphasis on keeping the energy levels moderate. Prefresh cows are perhaps the most difficult group to target with forages because of the limited size of the group and their specific nutrient requirements. In the last 20 years, feeding prefresh cows has advanced immensely. We know that keeping energy levels lower with a bulky forage like grass hay or straw keeps the liver functioning better PAUL DYK The author is a dairy nutrition consultant with GPS Dairy Consulting LLC, and based in Malone, Wis.

and reduces the rate of ketosis and displaced abomasums in fresh cows. At the same time, we are using nutritional strategies to impact calcium (Ca) metabolism to reduce milk fever and, perhaps more importantly, subclinical hypocalcemia. Cows that transition with a healthy liver and proper calcium metabolism simply take off better after they calve. There are three strategies that can be attempted to meet these needs. First, very bulky forages with low Ca and potassium (K) levels; for most farms, this can be difficult to attain and is seldom attempted. Fertilization and manure makes this unlikely on most farms. Second, using a binder in the ration to tie up Ca (lowering Ca available to the cow) can allow some haylage to be utilized in the diet along with some corn silage and straw. The research and practical farm experience is still developing on this front. Third, the most typical approach is feeding a diet of corn silage and straw or grass hay. The energy from the

corn silage is cut with the straw/hay while keeping the potassium low for Ca metabolism (with the addition of a diet acidifier). The straw and grass hay portion of this prefresh diet has caused many nutritionists to suffer from headaches and sleepless nights. Straw in the prefresh diet is typically fed at 5 to 10 pounds while grass hay will be fed at an even higher rate. The need for straw and grass hay provides a big opportunity for forage growers. For many dairies, accessing this straw or grass hay can be difficult. There are a few major requirements for this forage: 1. The forage needs to be tested with a wet lab analysis for macrominerals. A standard near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) forage quality analysis is not sufficient. 2. Particle size is critical to eliminate sorting. Processing straw and hay on the farm is not always an option. Using the TMR mixer as a bale processor is time consuming and inefficient. Producers will pay more

for precut baled hay and straw. 3. The forage needs to be clean, free of mold, and protected from the rain. Prefresh cows sometimes have a compromised immune system, and reducing the potential impact of mycotoxins and molds is necessary for a smooth transition. Finally, for those that grow forages, there can be an additional revenue stream. In areas of the U.S. where feedlot and dairy overlap, there are custom operators who grind hay and straw monthly for customers, eliminating the expense of owning their own tub grinder. In geographies with mostly dairy farms, I have seen a gap that presents an opportunity. Purchasing a high-capacity tub grinder with a little marketing might be a successful enterprise. A dairy’s minor league farm system is crucial to the future profitability of the business. To help ensure success, design forage production and feeding programs to meet the specific needs of these “players” as they work their way up to the big leagues. •








Contact Mountain View Seeds at 503.588.7333 or info@mtviewseeds.com www.mtviewseeds.com January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 31

Plan and monitor for extreme weather by Brian Hays


VERY livestock producer needs to develop a contingency plan and then carefully monitor specific aspects of their pasture system to ensure survival through extreme weather conditions. The best first step to avoid feed shortages is to provide good pasture management before the weather extremes occur, which will allow more plan flexibility. This requires a sound grazing strategy and monitoring forages throughout the year to maintain pastures in a healthy condition at all times. If your pastures are in poor shape when the extreme weather conditions occur, the effects will manifest quickly, and it will take longer to recover once weather conditions return to normal. Having healthy soils will help maintain your pastures in good condition. In the context of a properly managed production system, the five principles of soil health are: • Cover the soil • Minimize soil disturbance • Practice plant diversity • Maintain continuous living plants • Integrate livestock Following these five principles will improve the mineral and water cycles and make your pastures more resilient to extreme weather conditions.

Monitor rainfall Climatologists predict this will be a La Niña winter. For the southern Great Plains, that means a warmer and drier winter. Since precipitation is often the most limiting factor in ranching, it is important to keep good precipitation records. Monitoring rainfall allows you to see where you are throughout the year. A useful monitoring tool is a water year precipitation table. Using your rainfall records allows you to recognize when you are entering a drier than normal period and adjust stocking rates.

Monitor forage Grazing exclusion cages in each pasture are an easy way to monitor your 32 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

forage resource throughout the year. These allow you to see the amount of forage that is produced and compare with what has been consumed. This information can help you decide when it is time to rotate the livestock to the next pasture and allows the pasture to rest and recover prior to the next grazing event. Preventing overgrazing is a primary contributor to building soil health and pasture resilience.

Monitor stocking rate The most important component that we can control is stocking rate. For assistance in determining the correct stocking rate, check with your local county extension office, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or a local consultant. Additional information on stocking rates can be found at bit.ly/ HFG-stocking. Once you have determined the maximum proper stocking rate, you need to decide if you should stock at 100% capacity. Keep your stocking rates conservative, flexible, and adaptable each year. We generally recommend producers stock at 75% to 80% capacity, so when weather and forage conditions change, you have a cushion and more time to react without damaging your soil and forage resource. Overstocking has the greatest impact on vegetation resources and animal performance. If you are conservatively stocked in really good rainfall years, it enables you to take advantage of the extra forage produced with additional stockers, prescribed burning, or stockpiling forage for winter grazing.

Maintain cover A rotational grazing system allows pastures to rest and recover following a grazing event. If your forage base is native grasses, it is recommended to leave 6 to 8 inches of stubble height. For introduced forages like bermudagrass, a 4-inch stubble height is recommended. Another easy way to monitor pastures is to use a grazing stick (yardstick) and measure plant height when livestock is turned into the pasture and then monitor height while the pasture is being grazed. When the grass

height reaches the desired minimum stubble height, it is time to rotate to the next pasture. Maintaining these stubble heights throughout the winter months helps insulate the soil surface and protect the plant tissues from cold temperatures, which helps keep them from suffering winter injury. Keeping the soil covered also promotes infiltration and slows runoff when precipitation occurs. Maintaining a healthy plant community that keeps the soil covered and capturing and retaining the precipitation received makes your operation more drought resilient. Additionally, pastures will recover more quickly when favorable weather returns. For a video example of why cover is important for capturing and maintaining soil moisture, go to bit.ly/ HFG-cover.

Be prepared Weather extremes are normal events that grazing managers must be prepared to work with. By taking the time to develop a pasture management contingency plan and monitoring those variables that indicate changes may be occurring, you can put those plans into action and reduce the negative impact of extreme weather events that are becoming more common. •

DROUGHT MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS • Have a drought contingency plan • Cull cattle • Consider early weaning • Test hay for quality before purchasing • Have a grazing management plan • Look for toxic plants

For more information on how to prepare for drought with a regenerative ag mindset, visit bit.ly/HFG-prepare. BRIAN HAYS The author is a pasture and range consultant with the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Okla.

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January 2021 | hayandforage.com | 33


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FORAGE IQ American Forage and Grassland Council Virtual Conference January 11 and 12 Details: afgc.org

2021 Virtual Virginia Winter Forage Conference January 18 to 22 (five evening sessions) https://vaforages.org/events/

U.S. Custom Harvesters Convention January 21 to 23, Des Moines, Iowa Details: uschi.com

Western Alfalfa Seed Growers Assn. Virtual Winter Seed Conference January 25 and 26 Details: wasga.org

Virtual Driftless Region Beef Conference January 26 to 28 (three evening sessions) Details: www.aep.iastate.edu/beef/

Southwest Hay & Forage Conference January 27 to 29, Ruidoso, N.M. Details: www.nmhay.com

Midwest Forage Symposium (virtual) February 16 and 17 Details: midwestforage.org

Idaho Hay & Forage Conference February 18, Twin Falls, Idaho Details: idahohay.com

SW Missouri Spring Forage Conference February 23 and 24 Details: springforageconference.com

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More of the same There remains little movement in hay prices, and stability has been present in the hay market for some time now. In fact, the last month when USDA’s average monthly alfalfa hay price moved out of the $170 to $180 range was July 2019. It appears that China is back in the game for importing U.S. alfalfa. Its 2020

total volume of alfalfa shipped from U.S. shores will be significantly higher than 2019. This has helped bolster hay prices in the West. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of early December. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted.•

For weekly updated hay prices, go to “USDA Hay Prices” at hayandforage.com Supreme-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (northern SJV) California (central SJV)

South Dakota-lrb Price $/ton 200 South Dakota 295 (d) Texas (Panhandle) 210

Colorado (northeast) 200-225 Idaho (south central) 190 Kansas (south central) 200 Kansas (southwest) 195-205 Minnesota (Sauk Centre) 185-240 Missouri 200-250 Montana 180 Nebraska (western) 195-205 Oklahoma (north central) 200 Oregon (Klamath Basin) 245-270 Oregon (Lake County) 230 Pennsylvania (southeast) 305-320 South Dakota 200 Texas (Panhandle) 260-280 Texas (west)-ssb 300 Washington (Columbia Basin) 220-240 Premium-quality alfalfa Price $/ton California (intermountain) 180-200 California (Sacramento Valley)-ssb 280 Colorado (northeast) 190 Iowa 270-325 Iowa (Rock Valley) 158-163 Kansas (northeast) 186-190 Kansas (south central) 175 Minnesota (Pipestone)-ssb 175 Minnesota (Sauk Centre) 185-200 Missouri 160-200 Nebraska (central) 175-200 New Mexico (south) 100 Oklahoma (northwest) 180 Oregon (Lake County) 175-195 Pennsylvania (southeast)-ssb 325 Texas (Panhandle)-ssb 260-275 Washington (Columbia Basin) 210 Wisconsin (Lancaster) 210-220 Wyoming (western)-ssb 200-220 Good-quality alfalfa Price $/ton California (northern SJV) 200-215 California (southeast)-ssb 165 Colorado (northeast) 170 Idaho (northeast) 140 Iowa (Rock Valley) 130-158 Kansas (south central)-lrb 90-110 Kansas (southeast) 155-160 Kansas (southwest) 130-170 Minnesota (Sauk Centre) 150-200 Minnesota (Pipestone)-ssb 155 Missouri 120-160 Nebraska (central)-lrb 85-100 Pennsylvania (southeast) 230-300

Washington (Columbia Basin)-ssb


(d) (d)

(d) (d)

(d) (d)

Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (western) Fair-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV) California (southeast) Idaho (northeast) Idaho (western) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (northwest)-lrb Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Missouri Montana South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Wisconsin (Lancaster) -lrb Wyoming (western) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Good lrb Alabama-Premium lrb California (southeast)-Premium ssb California (southeast)-Premium Texas (central)-Premium ssb Texas (south)-Good/Premium lrb Bromegrass hay Kansas (northeast)-Good Kansas (southeast)-Premium Orchardgrass hay California (intermountain)-Premium ssb Montana-Good Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Premium ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Timothy hay Oregon (eastern)-Premium Oregon (eastern)-Fair Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good ssb Washington (Col. Basin)-Fair/Good Wyoming (western)-Premium ssb Oat hay California (northern SJV) New Mexico (north central) Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Good ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good ssb Straw Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (northeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Pennsylvania (southeast)-lrb South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Washington (Columbia Basin)

Abbreviations: d=delivered, lrb=large round bales, ssb=small square bales, o=organic

140 (d) 175-180 225 (d) 230 130-195 150-160 Price $/ton 130-200 135-155 140 150 103-120 95 145 105-120 100-125 130-140 108-115 65 125 Price $/ton 70-90 100-133 190-210 120 260-330 140-180 Price $/ton 110 140 Price $/ton 300 140 275 265-275 Price $/ton 270 190 280-370 265 125 300 Price $/ton 110 115 185 250 Price $/ton 73-110 100 65-110 100-130 48-63 70







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suggest that even short-term or single manure applications can influence soil properties, and likely soil microbes, to the benefit of crops for years following application,” Gamble wrote in his research report. This continuing research, he added, may help answer how long manure-application benefits should last, and how often manure should be applied or alfalfa

be included in a rotation to maximize those benefits. “If we see these benefits in manure and can quantify them and understand how long they last, perhaps there is more economic value to that manure,” Gamble said. “Dairy producers are most likely applying manure every year. They have manure and need to use it. But I also think there

is a benefit here for grain producers who don’t have livestock. It might make sense to ship it a little further if a grain producer knows he will get a soil health benefit that lasts five years, for example. That way it might help both the dairy farmer and the grain producer.” For the complete report, visit www. alfalfa.org. •

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All photos Mike Rankin

7,000 cattle in 5-acre paddocks by C.J. Weddle


USH Creek Ranch has the art of raising 7,000 stocker cattle down to a science - a 5-acre science. On their 2,000-acre spread near Viroqua, Wis., Matt Ludlow and his father, Reid, raise nearly 7,000 stocker steers and heifers in groups ranging from 600 to 900 head on 5-acre paddocks. When Reid first started the operation in 1976, he fenced his property off in 40-acre pastures and began a rotational grazing practice. This worked well for him, but when Matt returned from college, he brought a handful of changes with him.

Pasture size Reid had already made one change to the pasture size before Matt came home to help run the family farm. He converted from 40-acre pastures to 10-acre pastures, which gave him four times as many paddocks to use in the rotation and allowed the ranch to purchase more cattle. However, Matt continued to section the paddocks off into smaller units. He split the 10-acre pastures in half, and he used a land surveyor to parcel the rest of the property into 5-acre sections. Decreasing the pasture size has enabled Rush Creek Ranch to increase stocking density at an average of 5% per year without having to purchase additional land. 20 | Hay & Forage Grower | January 2021

When Reid first started, he dug ponds in each of the 40-acre pastures. Matt said, “That ended up being a significant waste of time and money, especially for how we are running things now.” Currently, each field has its own water source. All of the cattle are sold to feedlots between Thanksgiving and Christmas with a goal of being placed against the April board when they are marketed as fat cattle. So, as cattle are shipped out, water tanks and lines are drained and winterized to prevent damage from freezing.

Rotation frequency “When my father had those 40-acre pastures, he would turn the cattle out and it would take three weeks for them to eat and utilize all of the forage in a pasture,” Matt explained. “Now, we move them twice a day.” Each set of cattle, and the feedbunk that belongs to that group, moves once in the morning and once in the evening during spring. “We aren’t timing this out to perfect 12-hour shifts,” Matt noted. Using only horses and dogs to work cattle, Matt and Reid try to give each group anywhere from eight to 12 hours on a paddock. It usually takes about 30 minutes to move cattle unless one of the calves is sick and needs attention.

Management The Ludlows procure their 7,000 head of cattle from the southeastern

United States. They, along with employed buyers, scout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia for lightweight calves that will quickly add pounds. After spending time on ryegrass paddocks near Mobile, Ala., the calves are trucked to central Wisconsin when spring arrives at Rush Creek Ranch. Grazing ryegrass in the South helps to adjust their stomachs and palette to the cool-season grasses that are in Ludlow’s paddocks. “We let most of the forages come back volunteer, and what’s there is there,” he said. “Although, we do frost seed red clover annually on each pasture.” Matt went on to explain that if a pasture is damaged after heavy rain and foot traffic, they will reseed it with ryegrass as well as the red clover.

Matt Ludlow has been able to increase stocking density by 5% each year.

Another important factor of this operation is the use of supplemental feed. In the spring and early summer, the cattle get a couple of pounds each of a total mixed ration (TMR) in the feedbunks. This prepares them for late summer and fall when the forages start to play out, and the TMR increases to 40% to 60% of their diet. Adding the supplemental feed enables Rush Creek Ranch to maintain the entire herd on pastures until that late fall/early winter time frame. “We found that feeding more TMR towards the end of the grazing season gives us a few more days out of each paddock,” Matt said. “We rotate twice a day now, but by fall, we will leave them on one paddock for up to three days.” • C.J. WEDDLE The author was the 2020 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends Mississippi State University and is majoring in agricultural education, leadership, and communications.


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Make the Switch! Learn why so many growers are switching to Alforex™ varieties with Hi-Gest® alfalfa technology.

1 Higher Digestibility Alforex™ varieties with Hi-Gest® alfalfa technology average 5-8% more leaves than conventional varieties which can result in the following: • 5-10% increased rate of fiber digestion* • 22% reduction in indigestible fiber at 240 hours (uNDF240)** • 3-5% more crude protein**

2 More Tonnage Alforex varieties with Hi-Gest alfalfa technology provide farms flexibility to adjust to aggressive harvest systems to maximize yield and quality or to a more relaxed schedule focused on tonnage. Either way, growers put the odds of improved returns per acre and animal performance in their favor.

3 More Milk While management and feeding practices vary widely, it’s common for dairies feeding Alforex varieties with Hi-Gest alfalfa technology to report a positive production response from their cows when alfalfa makes up a higher percentage of the ration. Based on the increased rate of digestion, you could expect 2.5 lbs. more milk per cow, per day.1 And while not every producer experiences this level of improvement, some producers report even better results.

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*The increased rate of fiber digestion, extent of digestion and crude protein data was developed from replicated research and on-farm testing. During the 2015 growing season at West Salem, WI and Woodland, CA, the following commercial dormant, semi-dormant and non-dormant alfalfa varieties were compared head-to-head with Alforex varieties with Hi-Gest alfalfa technology for rate of digestion, extent of digestion and percent crude protein: America’s Alfalfa Brand AmeriStand 427TQ; Croplan Brands LegenDairy XHD and Artesia Sunrise; Fertizona Brand Fertilac; S&W Seed Brands SW6330, SW7410 and SW10; and W-L Brands WL 319HQ and WL 354HQ. Also, during the 2015 growing season, 32 on-farm Alforex varieties with Hi-Gest alfalfa technology hay and silage samples were submitted to Rock River Laboratory, Inc., for forage analysis. The results for rate of digestion, extent of digestion and percent crude protein were averaged and compared to the 60-day and four-year running averages for alfalfa in the Rock River database which included approximately 1,700 alfalfa hay and 3,800 silage 60-day test results and 23,000 hay and 62,000 silage tests results in the four-year average. **Crude protein=60-day running averages and uNDF240=four-year running average 1 Combs, D. 2015. Relationship of NDF digestibility to animal performance. Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference, 101-112. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5350/ f0a2cb916e74edf5f69cdb73f091e1c8280b.pdf. ™ ® Trademarks of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer, and their affiliated companies or their respective owners. © 2020 Corteva.

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