Hay & Forage Grower - February 2021

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February 2021

It’s not your typical organic dairy pg 6 Yeasts gone wild pg 12 Turning down the irrigation spigot pg 28

Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

Don’t get bold if your hay has mold pg 30

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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!”


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February 2021 · VOL. 36 · No. 2 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

16 Hay quality is a lifestyle at Hardrock

W.D. HOARD & SONS C.J. Weddle

David and Teri Hinman have built a commercial hay business that cranks out bale after bale of high-quality alfalfa and orchardgrass. The Wyoming operation is a frequent contender at the World Forage Analysis Superbowl in Madison, Wis.

PRESIDENT Brian V. Knox 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 Forage Gearhead 10 Dairy Feedbunk 14 Alfalfa Checkoff 24 The Pasture Walk


Five keys to profitable grass-finished beef

26 An enjoyable 40 years of grass breeding

Finishing beef on forages is not an enterprise for the faint of heart. Follow these steps to enhance your odds for success.

Few grass breeders can match the résumé of Michael Casler. Here, he takes a journey back over the past 40 years.





















30 Beef Feedbunk 32 Feed Analysis 38 Forage IQ 38 Hay Market Update ON THE COVER Simon says, “Graze to the left.” These two bovines were caught grazing in unison at Prairie Star Farm in Waukon, Iowa. The organic dairy farm is owned and operated by John and Meghan Palmer, along with their five children. In addition to ample pasture, cows are housed in a freestall barn and fed a partial TMR each day. The Palmers grow their own organic grain and utilize silage bags along with baleage. Read more about their dairy starting on page 6. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2021 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.

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 3


Old tattoos


Mike Rankin Managing Editor

IMILAR to that 30-year-old tattoo of an ex-girlfriend’s name that seemed like a good idea at the time, some things just hang around beyond their useful life. The forage industry has several of these tattoos in the form of forage quality metrics that were thought useful in their day but have since been deemed inferior by new science and improved evaluation measures. The problem is that the old measures or calculations never seem to disappear. Exhibit A in the widely used but antiquated forage metric category is the use of acid detergent fiber (ADF) as the sole basis for calculating total digestible nutrients (TDN). The alternative, and a much more accurate assessment of the livestock performance value of forage, is a summative TDN value, which is derived from adding together the digestibility of nonfiber carbohydrates (NFC), crude protein (CP), fat, and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Essentially, we have an old and new approach for calculating TDN that often offer different results. That’s a problem . . . a big problem in some cases. A similar comparison could be made between relative feed value (RFV) and relative forage quality (RFQ), with the latter being the summative approach that integrates forage digestibility. Kudos to the American Forage and Grassland Council for assembling a panel of industry experts to discuss and seek solutions to this issue during the organization’s virtual annual conference. The panel included animal scientists, agronomists, and forage laboratory administrators. “Both the National Research Council (NRC) dairy and beef nutrient requirement publications have gravitated toward the summative equation,” said Dave Combs, who recently retired from his position as a dairy scientist with the University of Wisconsin. The NRC is widely accepted as the gold standard in terms of peer-reviewed nutrient recommendations and analysis for livestock feeding. “One of the initial problems was that some people used ADF to estimate digestibility, and it was never intended for that,” noted Dan Undersander, an emeritus extension forage specialist with the University of Wisconsin. “In fact, the research has shown that ADF is not a reliable estimate of digestibility. The value of the summative equation is that we’re looking at the digestibility of each of the major components of the forage. It’s not perfect, but at least we can use it across forage

species and livestock classes,” he added. A logical question to ask is, “Why do labs offer an ADF-derived TDN value if it’s simply not as accurate as the summative approach?” The answer is simple: A significant number of farmers and industry professionals are still directly or indirectly requesting the ADF-derived TDN value. There are several reasons why this is occurring. A lab report that is generated without forage digestibility measures (for example, NDF digestibility) will cost less, and this is what drives some customers’ requests. “You’re being penny-wise but pound-foolish if you don’t request digestibility measures,” Undersander opined. “Another problem lies in the fact that there are strong regional preferences for specific traditional indexes; for example, a lab cannot participate in the hay market in California without providing the California TDN, which is derived directly from ADF,” said Kyle Taysom, chief executive officer at Dairyland Labs. If meaningful change and progress is going to take place, several actions need to occur. First, all forage producers and users must move into the 21st century and request only those lab analysis packages that include digestibility measures. There needs to be a unified and meaningful effort in our extension and industry educational programs to explain why it so important to value forage based on digestibility measures. Last, but certainly not least, the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service’s (AMS) hay grading system needs to be updated to reflect metrics that take forage digestibility into account. If the current hay market grades are allowed to stand, there will remain a demand for forage quality metrics that do not reflect digestibility. A collaborative effort, including multiple national forage organizations, will be needed for these changes to occur. “We’ve been sweeping this issue under the rug for far too long,” concluded Dennis Hancock, director of the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis. “We can’t let perfect be the enemy of better.” •

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 | February 2021


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HE greeting sign reads Prairie Star Farm, and as you turn into the drive, you may find any one of John and Meghan Palmer’s five children running between the buildings. During my visit, all of them were washing heifers to get ready for the county fair. Having arrived at the northeast Iowa organic dairy farm just after milking, I found John Palmer walking the break wire across the paddock, getting ready to turn the cows out to graze. As he did, we made a quick lap through the paddock, noting the different pasture forage species. Once the gate on the freestall barn opened, we watched the cows pick and choose plants to graze. “My wife says if she is going to milk cows, she wants them to give enough to make milking worth it,” Palmer joked. To maintain a herd milking average

6 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

over 20,000 pounds, the Palmers grow their own crops for their total mixed ration (TMR), which includes grain, corn silage, and alfalfa haylage. No, this isn’t your typical organic or low-input grazing dairy. “Yield is vanity, profit is sanity,” Palmer professed. “Having a lot of yield and spending a ton of money to get it doesn’t make any sense, but accepting low production and conditions I don’t enjoy wouldn’t be success for me, either.”

When the cows come home The Palmers didn’t start their dairy career on the 240-acre farm they now own, but both Palmer and his wife come from farming families. Palmer planted the first crop of his own in 2002 on land he rented that neighbored his father’s farm. As a young college student, Palmer came home on the weekends and over breaks to help his dad farm. Soon he was farming as many rented acres as his dad owned. That’s when the young married

couple decided it was time to head off on their own. In 2003, they found a farm for rent and transitioned it to organic production. Meanwhile, they bought the building site and a herd of 50 grazed Holsteins. In 2006, they started shipping milk to Organic Valley dairy cooperative, which continues today. The final move was to Meghan’s home farm a little over five years ago. The farm had already been in organic production for many years. Before he passed away, they worked with Meghan’s father to purchase the 240-acre farm. Previously, it ran as an

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.

C.J. Weddle

Prairie Star Farms has integrated many so-called conventional management practices into a successful and profitable organic dairy.

Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin

The Palmers grow their own organic grain, including corn. In 2020, they interseeded a cover crop (left) into some of the corn as a part of demonstration project. “I want to grow my own grain because it’s too expensive to buy,” Palmer said.

organic dairy with the help of a herdsman who bought her father’s herd and moved to his own farm at the time of their purchase. When they were taking over the daily routines and building a new freestall barn at Prairie Star Farm, Palmer was still managing and milking 140 cows at the farm they had just moved from. “I was getting to the point where I was not very much fun to be around,” Palmer noted. “To simplify things, my hired man bought 50 cows and 50 heifers from us and started on his own. He took over the lease and bought the previous building site, too.” These days the Palmers own 240 acres, rent about 400 more acres on four other farms, and recently added a full-time employee to the scheme. Palmer crops close to 500 acres of organic corn, soybeans, small grains, and hay. The remaining 140 acres are in permanent pasture. “I want to be able to grow my own grain because it’s too expensive to buy,” Palmer said of organic grain. So, he harvests and stores enough grain corn, soybeans, oats, and barley, along with corn silage, alfalfa haylage, and baleage to feed his cattle for the year. During the 2020 growing season, Palmer participated in a cover crop demonstration, which was organized by the local United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS)offices. He planted a mix of cowpeas, ryegrass, buckwheat, and turnips into standing corn. The hope is that the cover crops will help with

weed control and provide late-season grazing opportunities. Cows at Prairie Star Farm receive a partial TMR even when they are able to graze and move to new paddocks twice a day. Palmer provides about 30 pounds of corn silage per cow each day to help meet nutrient requirements and maintain production. He also finds that using both bagged haylage and round bale baleage is a positive economic move for his farm. “We cut down on spoilage by feeding baleage as needed during the grazing season,” he explained. “But the bag of haylage is great during the winter when I need a large amount of feed.”

pastures have laid undisturbed for 15 to 20 years. “The first couple of paddocks closest to the barn have some of the highest fertility on the entire farm, and they produce great forages,” Palmer stated. “There aren’t many legumes in the back corner, but we are actively working to improve fertility, pasture diversity, and productivity,” he added.

Long-lived pastures “We haven’t reseeded any of the grazing paddocks since we moved here,” Palmer shared. Knowing that one day it may be necessary, the Palmers have had many discussions about reseeding, but they haven’t felt the need to do so yet. Palmer stays away from completely destroying paddocks as much as he can. With gradual improvements, he feels encouraged to better his forage quality through management decisions instead of reseeding. “Grazing management brings out a lot of surprising things, and no two paddocks are the same,” he explained. “Between grazing and clipping, we knock back what’s there really hard, and that allows other species to come back.” The pastures vary as you cross the farm. Fertility differences caused by old fences and distance from the barn are noticeable. Some of the tillable

Mike Rankin

“Yield is vanity, profit is sanity,” Palmer said. However, he also doesn’t accept low production.

Palmer advises that if you can work with what you have long enough to let your system balance itself, you just might be better off than spending that extra time, money, and energy tearing up the land and restarting.

Major modifications The existing buildings have received several renovations over the years, and Palmer has also added a few new structures that were built to his liking. Eighteen years ago, Palmer helped his father-in-law build the milking parcontinued on following page >>> February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 7

Cows head to the pasture after milking and eating a partial total mixed ration. The dairy herd is offered fresh pasture twice per day and is moved back to the barn when summer daytime temperatures get too hot.

lor. Now, it operates as a swing-12 with Dairy Master milkers. A former layer hen building was renovated to raise heifers. “We ran a couple of flocks, but we aren’t chicken people,” laughed Palmer. The former freestall barn has been repurposed to group-raise calves. The structure is tube ventilated and has five pens. The barn welcomed its first group during the fall of 2019. Another addition to the farm is the fly vacuum. As organic dairy farmers, the Palmers are limited on fly control options. They explained that using mineral oil and organic fly control makes a notable difference, but sometimes it’s not enough. After evaluating research, Palmer bought a used Spalding Cow Vac from the University of Minnesota to enhance his fly management program. “For me, it was an easy investment,” he said. “It’s amazing how much happier they are, how much less they bunch, and how much less milk we lose if we can keep the flies from driving them insane,” Palmer informed. Yet another one of Palmer’s investments is the freestall barn, which was added after the Palmers gained ownership. Loaded with sprinklers, brushes, and surfaced outside areas, this barn is utilized for cow comfort year-round. 8 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

Mike Rankin

While Holsteins account for the majority of the herd at Prairie Star Farm, there are a few Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorns as well.

All in the genes In the early days, the Palmers incorporated New Zealand Friesian genetics, but as time went on, the cattle became a little too small and had lower production than they liked. So, to correct the production deficit, they reintroduced U.S. Holstein genetics to their breeding program. They also intensively select for health traits, components, and moderate stature. For seven years, the Palmers have almost exclusively used polled A.I. bulls. Along with this, they are selecting for A2 milk protein genetics. “We are pretty close to having everything on the farm genomic tested,” Palmer asserted. Once he reaches his homozygous trait goals for the polled trait, the bull gene pool he can choose from will expand.

Looking to the future “When you get older, you hope that your career has yielded enough to afford the luxuries you want,” Palmer shared. “We also want to create a situation that, hopefully, the next generation

C.J. Weddle

Everyone in the Palmer family is actively involved in the farm. Front row (left to right): Ethan, Norah, Roslyn, and Naomi. Back row: Faith, John, and Meghan.

will want to be a part of.” He takes pride in the way his operation looks and functions and explained that he doesn’t want the jobs around the farms to be unpleasant for himself or those working for him. Palmer is drafting plans for a new milking parlor to build in the next few years. “Milking happens twice a day, every day, and we’d like to enhance the experience and incorporate technology to add comfort and management options. “I am all about preventing problems, maintaining the things we have, and creating the best environment I can for the animals and people creating my livelihood,” he declared. •


by Adam Verner

Good baleage begins with dense, uniformly sized bales.

the benefits of both. The number one thing I always recommend is a moderate-sized windrow and a baling speed of around 5 mph. Those two things will pay immediate dividends. Baling speed and windrow size is particularly an emphasis for fixed-chamber balers. They need the time to pack in the hay, but because of the open chamber and the fixed size, the fixed-chamber bales will be more uniform than a variable-chamber baler with belts. Therefore, you see more fixed-chamber balers in Europe because they are predominantly used for wet hay.

Use a double spear

Mike Rankin

Quality baleage demands a quality bale


OST farmers think their machinery salesman is just someone who wants to sell the next unit, but a good sales representative also wants to help you succeed with your operation. Admittedly, this may be a slow progression for some sales personnel, but once they realize the benefits of a “success first” approach, they never turn back. One of the things I enjoy the most about the hay equipment business is witnessing the progression of our customers in terms of the quality of forage they are putting up. An approach we take for helping our customers improve their forage quality is simply to demonstrate the value of making a structurally sound bale. Here, I am talking about making tight, square bales that are uniform in size. This is especially important if an in-line bale wrapper is being used. Perhaps a structurally sound, uniform bale may seem trivial if your goal is to simply maximize bales made per hour, but one of the single most important components in making good silage is proper bale density. Getting all of the oxygen out of a pile of corn silage is of the utmost importance, and the same can be said for round bales being made for baleage.

Making a good silage bale sounds simple, but as I drive down the road and see lines of bales wrapped in plastic, it is evident that this is not the case for many forage producers. I have explained in past articles about the importance of the rake in the baleage-making process, and I believe the best bales start with the raking job. For farmers making dry hay, they often try and make a large windrow that is almost as wide as the pickup. In doing so, they do not have to weave back and forth as the hay is picked up.

Make a good windrow With baleage, the best bales are made with a smaller, moderate-sized windrow. The ability to weave just a little allows you to make sure you have adequate hay on each side, and it also ensures you don’t get the hour glassshaped bales from wheel rakes with no hay in the middle of the windrow. Speed is a bale density killer! The more revolutions the bale makes in the bale chamber, the tighter the bale will form. Yes, using a rotary rake helps and using knives to process the forage can take it to the next level, but if you are running 8 miles per hour (mph) while baling, you are diminishing

Finally, make sure you do a good job of handling and wrapping bales. Many farmers use bale spears on their loaders. The single spear is very handy and works well, but I don’t recommend a single spear for baleage bales. With the spear being in the top half of the bale, all of the weight is pulling down on the spear and can cause an air pocket in the bale, even with a tightly formed bale. I strongly encourage producers to use a double spear handler, making it possible to lift from the bottom half and reduce the risk of air pockets. The final step is putting on the plastic, which sounds simple, but I still see many situations where bales are poorly wrapped. You can put them on the wrapper and get the plastic on fast, but the inconsistency will lead to air pockets in the tube or individual bale. These air pockets will produce mold and the hay will spoil. It seems simple, but placing the bales on the wrapper so the edges match up squarely makes a huge difference. Do not forget to put pressure on the tube wrapper. A tightly pressed tube pays dividends. Perhaps some of these tips sound basic, but none will cost a lot of money. That’s what makes them so important and profitable. •

ADAM VERNER The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 9


by Peter Robinson

Mike Rankin

Hay price and quality sometimes diverge LFALFA hay has long been a premier forage for dairy cattle. Even today, when our knowledge of dairy cattle nutritional requirements has never been more complete, most nutritionists and dairy producers like to see some alfalfa hay in their lactation rations. The high nutritional quality of alfalfa hay grown and fed today has occurred because growers and dairy producers have been, and are, focused on improved hay quality, even at the expense of a grower’s yield or a higher cost for the dairy producer. So, if a high alfalfa hay price is all about excellent quality, which is often measured as total digestible nutrients (TDN) or relative forage quality (RFQ), then pragmatic growers will produce hay with as low of an acid detergent fiber (ADF) level as possible because lower ADF hay results in higher TDN/ RFQ hay, and that will always sell at a higher price. Right? In fact, alfalfa hay (air dry basis) with a TDN of 56 was a good dairy hay 20 years ago, but now it needs to be closer to 60. This drove growers to boost hay TDN and, in so doing, hays with very high TDN values, even in excess of 62 and into the Supreme grade, were produced and marketed. While this 10 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

sounded like a high-priced hay opportunity to growers, an odd thing happened on the way to the market — dairy producers were only prepared to pay more for hay with higher TDN up to a certain point and, after that, little more.

Other changes Lower ADF values in alfalfa hay are linked to changes in other nutrients, and most of them are positive relative to the energy (TDN) value of the hay. The most obvious change is that as the ADF drops, so does neutral detergent fiber (NDF), which captures all of the structural fiber. Acid detergent fiber, on the other hand, only captures 70% to 85% of the structural fiber. Since NDF is the slowest digesting portion of the hay, a lower concentration will improve the hay’s energy level. As ADF and NDF both decline, the digestibility of the NDF improves, which means that on a unit NDF basis, there is more energy from NDF but less NDF energy in total. Thus, it’s a double positive for TDN — less NDF that is more digestible. Another benefit associated with declining ADF/NDF levels of alfalfa hay is that nonfiber carbohydrate (NFC) concentrations increase. As NFC

are rapidly fermented in the rumen of the cows, more NFC results in higher energy (TDN) in the hay. Finally, lower ADF levels in alfalfa hay cause the crude protein (CP) level to rise. Crude protein is required in relatively high quantities by dairy cows and, if not supplied in hay, it must be purchased in costly protein meals such as soybean or canola. And, as with NDF, it is not just that CP concentration is enhanced as ADF declines. The indigestibility of the CP fraction is decreasing as well, which means that on a unit CP basis, there is more digestible CP in the hay. It is clear that as the ADF level of hay goes down, a number of other components change, and all of these changes will improve the energy (TDN) of the hay. But doesn’t this merely confirm that the hay price should be higher as its ADF level drops? Actually, this isn’t always true because the reduction in NDF level in the hay will also reduce the amount of ruminative chewing by the cows, as well as the resultant salivation that buffers rumen fermentation in order to prevent a low pH and acidosis. So, lower ADF/NDF makes alfalfa hay less of a forage and more of a concentrate, especially when they are at very low levels. Alfalfa hay only makes up a portion of rations fed to lactating dairy cows, and this level has been declining in recent years to only 5% to 15% of the forage dry matter (DM) fed. So, it is not just hay that impacts intake, but all ration ingredients. While DM intake of dairy cows fed any particular ration is influenced by numerous factors — only some of which can be described mathematically — two key factors that impact intake of a ration are its level of structural fiber (NDF) and its level of NFC (starches, sugars, and pectins). Diet NDF limits intake by enhancing ration bulk, thereby requiring cows to spend more time eating and ruminating (cud chewing) per unit of ration consumed. Since there is a limit to how much time cows can do this in a day (about 14 hours or 35,000 chews), as the

PETER ROBINSON The author is a dairy cattle nutrition extension specialist with the University of California-Davis.

ration NDF level gets too high and/or its digestibility (dNDF) declines, potential intake of the ration is more limited. In contrast, NFC provides no bulk to the ration, but it does provide carbohydrates that are very rapidly fermented in the rumen. If the amount and rate of fermentation of these carbohydrates create fermentation products faster than bacteria in the rumen can use them, then they accumulate in the rumen and drive down pH. Low rumen pH (acidosis) is a problem in cows fed rations too high in NFC, but, perhaps more importantly, acidosis depresses appetite, and total feed intake is reduced. Thus, intake of any ration tends to be depressed if the NDF level gets too high or too low. So, how does the ADF/NDF level of alfalfa hay that is only a part of the ration impact its price? If, for example, intake of a diet is limited by too much NDF, then reducing the ADF/NDF, which also elevates dNDF, will improve intake leading to greater energy intake and higher milk yield. Bottom line: The price of alfalfa hay with a lower ADF increases when diet ingredients high in NDF are abundant and/or inexpensive. If intake is limited by high NFC, then boosting ADF/NDF levels will reduce the NFC level in the ration, thereby improving intake, which leads to higher energy intake and greater milk yield. Bottom line: The value of alfalfa hay with a higher ADF increases when diet ingredients high in NDF are in short supply and/or very costly.

Thus, the relative value of Good-grade hay is enhanced, and Supreme/Premium grades hold a lower value. Alfalfa hay is a premier forage for dairy cows, but the relative value of the TDN/RFQ grades will vary dependent on availability and price of competing feeds. If forages with high dNDF levels are in limited supply, then the value of Good-grade hays with higher NDF will increase relative to Supreme/Premium hays with lower NDF concentrations.

Current alfalfa hay pricing is a sensible economic response to known biological responses of dairy cows to rations that can be formulated based upon availability and prices of available and/ or cost-effective feedstuffs. Since alfalfa hay inclusion levels in dairy rations are likely to decline further in the future due to state water restrictions, we can expect to see narrow price differences between Good and Supreme/Premium alfalfa hays for the foreseeable future. •




4:18 PM






When Good is good enough



Rations for dairy cows are commonly formulated to meet minimum and maximum levels of NDF and NFC. Nutritionists know that the most effective high-group dairy rations contain about 27% to 32% of the DM as NDF and about 36% to 42% of the DM as NFC. Rations out of these ranges depress intake and animal performance. When, as is currently the case in California, availability of forages with high levels of dNDF are limited and expensive, then nutritionists allow the NFC level of rations to drift up and NDF levels to drift down. This means that low ADF/NDF alfalfa hay is a poor choice as the dairy producer is giving up hay with higher NDF levels (and lower NFC levels) at the time that their nutritionist is struggling to keep ration NDF levels up and NFC levels down.



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February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 11



URKING in every load of corn silage brought to the silo are wild yeasts. These microorganisms are a specific type of fungi that occur naturally on all plants and may be active with or without oxygen, depending on the type. Yeasts vary in function. Some species are capable of fermenting free sugars in anaerobic (no air) conditions while others will “assimilate” or oxidize lactate aerobically (in the presence of air). A majority of species are tolerant of pH levels down to about 3. All of these traits set yeasts up to wreak havoc with an ensiled corn silage crop that is subjected to oxygen in the air. “There are many different types of yeasts in corn silage, and the types present will vary from farm-to-farm and from crop-to-crop,” noted Limin Kung during his presentation at the virtual Penn State Dairy Cattle Nutrition Workshop last fall. Kung, a dairy nutritionist and renowned silage expert with the University of Delaware, said that we don’t really understand why this variation exists and what conditions favor certain species over another.

A two-pronged attack What we do know is that yeasts have the potential to cause significant damage to corn silage while in storage, at the silage face, and in the feedbunk. 12 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

Under anaerobic conditions, fermenting yeasts convert sugars to ethanol, carbon dioxide, and water. “This type of fermentation can be a problem,” Kung said. “For example, when these yeasts ferment glucose, there is only a 51% recovery of dry matter. So, for any silage that has a high concentration of ethanol, you can be assured that you’ve lost a significant amount of dry matter because of that fermentation process.” Equally if not more destructive are the aerobic yeasts that oxidize lactic acid to carbon dioxide and water. “These yeasts also cause a large loss in dry matter and are the primary initiators of aerobic spoilage in silage and total mixed rations,” Kung explained. When considered in total, aerobic instability during storage and feeding accounts for nearly 50% of the dry matter losses occurring in the silage-making and feeding process. Under poor management, dry matter losses from aerobic instability can be as high as 20% of the total dry matter that went into the silo. Kung emphasized that the dollar value of loss at this level can easily reach a six-digit figure on larger dairy operations without even factoring in reduced milk production.

With air, the dominos fall “When air is introduced into silage, it starts a domino effect of undesirable activity and reactions,” Kung noted. “Air wakes up the lactic acid-degrading yeasts, and they multiply in numbers. As a result, highly degradable nutri-

ents are destroyed along with a rise in temperature and pH. Next, the low pH allows molds and bacteria to become active, which causes more heating and massive spoilage.” Preventing silage spoilage becomes a yeast numbers game (see Figure 1). A silage that starts out with a relatively low number of yeasts will remain stable and unspoiled for 60 hours or even longer, according to Kung. Conversely, if yeast numbers start out high, that silage may deteriorate in 12 hours or less. “It’s a misconception that molds are the primary reason silages spoil,” Kung said. “Rather, it’s almost always because of these lactate-assimilating yeasts.”

A laundry list of problems Kung shared some data from Cumberland Valley Analytical Services (Waynesboro, Pa.) that reflected yeast counts from over 700 submitted silage samples. He noted that values ranged from under 1,000 to over 250 million colony-forming units (CFU) per gram. In the silage expert’s opinion, farmers need to strive for 500,000 CFU per gram or less to have silage stable enough that it won’t deteriorate before animal consumption at the feedbunk. When silage yeast populations become too high, the resulting impacts include heating at the silo and feedbunk, reduced animal feed intakes, acidosis-like conditions in continued on following page >>>

Keep yeast numbers low The overarching theme for minimizing wild yeasts in silages is pretty straightforward: Keep air out of the silage mass. That means ensure a high pack density, use a high-quality plastic with good oxygen exclusion properties, weigh the plastic down across the entire top surface and the ground perimeter, maintain an adequate feedout rate of at least 6 inches, and keep the face of the silo smooth. If aerobic stability and high yeast counts have a history of being a problem or are predicted to be more likely, additives such as an L. buchneri inoculant or organic acids can be used. Silages with a high starch content, such as corn silage and cereal grain silages, are most likely to respond to these additives.

“Preventing silage spoilage is a yeast numbers game,” explained Limin Kung.

Situations that raise the risk for spoilage include inadequate daily face removal rates, high dry matter silage, silage that will be moved from one structure to another, silage that is fed during the hot summer, silage that will be

stored for a prolonged period, and silage that is stored in temporary piles after being delivered from another location. “All types of yeasts are undesirable in silages and TMRs, but it’s the lactate-assimilating yeasts that are primarily responsible for aerobic spoilage,” Kung noted. “Even though we don’t know exactly what the reason is for reduced cattle performance when feeding spoiled silage, we certainly know that top-notch silo management can reduce yeast populations and improve aerobic stability significantly.” If you haven’t tested your silage for yeast levels recently, or if you’re having silage or TMR stability issues, it might be a good time to submit a sample to a reputable laboratory. If levels are greater than a half million CFU per gram, consult with your nutritionist to identify possible reasons for the high yeast count and evaluate ways your silo management might be improved in the future. •

Figure 1: Relationship between yeast numbers and aerobic stability

Hours of stability before spoilage

200 160 120 80 40 0

1,000 University of Delaware




Yeast, cfu/g

Figure 2: Effect of adding spoiled, high-yeast corn silage to a TMR 52

Temperature (◦C)

cows, lower milk production, and milkfat depression. “What we don’t know yet is exactly what is causing some of these negative impacts of feeding high-yeast silages,” Kung said. “Some hypotheses include that yeasts might produce mycosins that are toxic to the animal; there might be alterations in nutritive value imposed by the yeast being present; or it could just be a matter of organoleptic effects, things such as taste, smell, or hot feel.” Kung also suggests that yeasts might be causing problems by acid composition in spoiling feeds or in the rumen. Surprisingly, there are actually very few studies that have documented the effects of feeding spoiled silage to cows,” he added. In one trial completed by Kung and his co-workers, either fresh (about 4,000 CFU of yeast per gram) or spoiled silage (nearly 90 million CFU of yeast per gram) was used in a total mixed ration (TMR). The fresh corn silage had been treated with Lactobacillus buchneri inoculant. The researchers incorporated the spoiled corn silage into the TMR at different levels ranging from zero to 40% and then measured the aerobic stability (see Figure 2). Without any spoiled silage added, the fresh-silage TMR had an impressive aerobic stability of about 140 hours. When only 10% of the fresh silage was replaced with spoiled silage, aerobic stability of the TMR was reduced to less than 24 hours. The stability declined further as more spoiled, high-yeast silage was added to the TMR. “This study shows how important it is to keep spoiled silage out of the TMR because you will destabilize the entire batch of mixed feed,” Kung explained.

47 42 37 32 27 22


10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150 160 170 180


0% Old, 100% New

10% Old, 90% New

20% Old, 80% New

30% Old, 70% New

40% Old, 60% New

Steele et al., University of Delaware

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 13


Alfalfa leaf protein shows promise for better human health 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. LFALFA is underutilized, being mainly used as animal feed,” said Youngmi Kim, assistant professor in agricultural engineering technology at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. But the legume’s leaves can be mined for protein and amino acids and then used as supplements or within foods or pharmaceuticals for human consumption, she added. Her current Alfalfa Checkoff research shows commercially available enzymes can efficiently extract protein from fresh alfalfa leaves. “Consumers are getting more conscious about their food choices, and you see a lot of plant-based protein products on the market that are gaining popularity. But there have not been many products based on leaf proteins,” Kim said. Alfalfa, she pointed out, is a great

source of protein, containing 25% to 30% crude protein on a dry matter basis. It also contributes amino acids with a composition ratio consistent with the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) recommended adult amino acid profile, according to Kim’s research report. The current methods of extracting protein from alfalfa can’t extract enough to justify the costs YOUNGMI KIM of processing it, so $24,183 Kim experimented with commercially available cell-wall degrading enzymes. Three enzyme blends — Cellic CTec2, Viscozyme L, and Pectinex Ultra SP-L — were used separately and in combination on

More to learn “What I found from this research is that, although I can increase the extraction of protein significantly, separating that extracted protein from other compounds has not been very successful. There is work to be done. We have to find a way to purify and separate the protein,” Kim said. She also found another obstacle: Of the two leaf protein fractions extracted, one is not edible by human standards. The white protein fraction offers high Figure 2: Percent protein extracted from alfalfa leaves using enzymes (mg enzymes/g dry leaves).*

20 ■ Alfalfa leaf protein ■ Isolated soy protein (Chiang et al.)

16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2

Pr oli ne Gl yc ine Al an in Cy e s te ine Va li M et h ne io n Is o ine l eu c in e Le uc ine T Ph yros en i y la ne lan ine Ly sin e Hi sti din Ar e g Tr y inine pto ph an

c id

e uta




r in

ni n

re o






r ti


c id


80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0


72.0 74.7 69.9 71.8 71.4 67.6


C+ Co n V (4 tro C+ 8 m l P ( g/ 4 g V+ 1 m ) P ( g/ 13 g) V+ mg /g P C+ ( V+ 6 m ) g P C+ (51 /g) V+ mg P C+ (26 /g) V+ m P ( g/ 10 g) mg /g )


% Protein solubilized

Amino acids content (g/100g)

Figure 1: Amino acid compositions of alfalfa leaf proteins compared with isolated soy protein.

alfalfa leaves. Cellic CTec2 was developed to degrade cellulose to fermentable sugars and has been widely used to turn lignocellulosic materials into fuels and chemicals. The other two enzymes have been used to extract juices and oils from fruits, vegetables, and grains.

* C = Cellic CTec2; V = Viscozyme L; P = Pectinex Ultra SP-L; Control = no enzymes added

PROJECT RESULTS 1. C ell wall-degrading enzymes can extract more protein (65% to 75%) from alfalfa leaves as compared to nonenzymatic extraction; enzyme blends were tested, measured, and optimal doses recorded. 2. Amino acid profiles of extracted protein were measured and comparable to those of isolated soybean protein reported in literature, except for glutamic acid and cysteine (see Figure 1). The antioxidative property of peptides obtained from the alfalfa protein was also measured. 14 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

digestibility in humans, excellent emulsification, heat stability, and good water solubility. But the green fraction has negative sensory properties causing undesirable texture, taste, and smell. Discarding the green fraction would reduce the protein yield by half, which would prevent extraction from being financially viable.

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She estimates the second step in future research would be to look into the sensory properties of the green protein fraction to find ways to make it more enticing. Kim also discussed using enzymatic hydrolysis to produce peptides, which are short strings of amino acids that are easier to digest and offer improved solubility

and sensory properties. Peptides produced from alfalfa leaf protein had high nutritive values and good antioxidative properties and could be used as functional foods, nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, and constituents of pharmaceuticals. To view the project’s final report, visit www.alfalfa.org. •

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February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 15 74770-1_RBW_2021_FullSpectrum_Forage_4-785x7-375.indd 1

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HAY QUALITY is a lifestyle at Hardrock by Mike Rankin


T WAS 1984 when David Hinman had recently broken away from his family’s farm in Nebraska and took a chance on renting 400 acres of floodirrigated land near Wheatland, Wyo. He was both young and industrious. During that first year, a friend, who was helping Hinman get on his feet with the new venture, examined the young farmer’s field of cut alfalfa — a crop that had been established by the previous operator. Hinman’s friend turned to him and said, “I’ll meet you

16 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

at midnight to get it baled.” Hinman, who had previously only had experience making hay for his family’s beef herd, was a bit shocked at the request for a midnight rendezvous, but he heeded to the plan. “That’s the night I learned how to make high-quality alfalfa,” Hinman said Through art and science, Hinman and his wife, Teri, have been honing their haymaking skills ever since. For 20 years, their Hardrock Farms name has regularly appeared high on the leader board of the World Forage Analysis Superbowl held each year in Madison, Wis., during World Dairy

Expo. In 2020, their hay sample in the commercial hay division topped all other contest entries with a relative forage quality (RFQ) of 405 and a milk per ton value of 4,062. Hardrock Farms was named Grand Champion Forage Producer during a virtual awards ceremony last October.

A circuitous journey Hinman grew up on the family farm near Mitchell, Neb., where he graduated from high school and started college on a track scholarship. Initially, he had no desire to make farming a career. During the summer after his fresh-

Wyoming farmer David Hinman bales alfalfa in the early morning or late evening, after dew has added moisture to the bone-dry crop.

Teri Hinman collects small square bales of orchardgrass with their Bale Baron, which creates a 21-bale bundle for ease of handling and trucking.

All photos Mike Rankin

man year, he worked for an irrigation company, which helped spark a renewed interest in going back to the family’s row-crop and beef operation. Hinman halted his college life and returned to the farm, but soon after, so did his younger brother. “With additional land hard to come by in Nebraska, my dad sold the Nebraska farm and moved us out to Colorado,” Hinman explained. “But obtaining enough water for irrigation proved to be a problem, so back to Nebraska we went in the late 1970s.” As before, finding sufficient additional land to support each of the boys proved to be challenging.

days are hot and dry. According to “I got to talking to a friend who knew Hinman, they usually get 7 to 11 inches of a farm near Wheatland, Wyo., that of precipitation per year, which mostly had a contiguous 400 acres with a falls in the winter and early spring. house and a shop,” Hinman said. “In Buffering this extreme weather are 1984, and against my father’s advice, cool summer nights. That’s what offers I decided to rent that flood-irrigated Hinman his forage quality advantage, farm, and we’ve never as overnight respiration looked back.” losses to wilting alfalfa After four years of are minimal. renting land, he bought Hinman cuts his a nearby farm with alfalfa into a 3- to pivot irrigation for 4-foot swath and then $325 per acre during a lets it lay until it’s depressed, late-1980’s ready to bale. “Someeconomy. “I paid it off times, we have to rake the first year growing early in the morning,” dry beans,” Hinman Hinman noted. His chuckled. During the approach for determinensuing years, he ing when the alfalfa is bought several more ready to bale is pretty farms in the area. simple — the stems Currently, Hinman David Hinman was named Grand have to crack or break farms about 750 acres Champion Forage Producer in when bent during the of alfalfa and has six this past year’s World Forage day. When this occurs, irrigation pivots. He Analysis Superbowl. the hay will normally also has some pasture be baled very early acres that are pivot the next morning, assuming there is irrigated and keeps a herd of about 200 enough nighttime dew moisture that brood cows, which his daughter, Kellie, has rewetted the crop. When needed, oversees. Another daughter, Kristen, an organic acid is applied to the hay if lives off the farm in Cheyenne. the moisture content is slightly higher A haymaking environment than desired, which is usually only during the third and fourth cuttings. Wheatland (population 3,565) is All of the baling occurs either very located in southeastern Wyoming, early in the morning or late at night. roughly halfway between Cheyenne and Casper on Interstate 25. It sits at an continued on following page >>> elevation of about 5,000 feet. Summer February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 17

Hinman loads bundles of small square orchardgrass bales for a customer. Most of these grass bales find their way into the Colorado horse market.

One of Hinman’s most cherished haymaking tools is his WeatherBug cellphone app. He routinely checks for the hour-by-hour relationship between humidity, dew point, and temperature. He’s looking for a chance of dew, which occurs as the temperature and dew point converge. “If I see that the temperature and dew point are within 6 to 8 degrees of each other, I know that a light dew is possible,” Hinman said. “No hay is baled before its time.”

the veteran haymaker noted. “I’ve pretty much determined that you can harvest top-quality hay from just about all of them. Making high-quality hay really comes down to two things:

Two things To achieve a high volume of top-quality alfalfa, Hinman begins by seeding 22 to 24 pounds of seed per acre with a 20-foot Great Plains drill. “I like to ensure a thick stand is established in that first year,” he said. “I usually begin seeding around May 10 and control any weeds with conventional herbicides.” Hinman only grows a limited acreage of traited (Roundup Ready and HarvXtra) alfalfa varieties because his primary customer base requests non-GMO feed. He tests a lot of alfalfa varieties himself. “I probably have 20 different varieties across our fields right now,” 18 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

All of Hinman’s hay is sampled and tested. Alfalfa is shipped to Amish goat dairies in Iowa. They demand 180 RFV or higher.

weather and time of cutting.” Almost all of the hay is cut by Teri with a John Deere 16-foot rotary disc mower-conditioner. She also does any raking that is needed, using an H&S twin wheel rake. Hinman has a Massey Ferguson 2180 large square baler and a Massey Ferguson small square in-line baler. Recently, they also added a Bale

Baron to the machinery line, which picks up the small square bales and bundles them into 21-bale blocks for ease of handling and loading. Hinman gets five to six production years from his alfalfa stands after the seeding year. Fields are harvested three or four times per season and yield 5 to 6 tons of dry bales per acre. If a field is harvested four times, the final cutting is taken in October; this is usually the highest quality cutting of the year. The farm is located within the largest privately held irrigation district in the United States. To date, water availability from the snow-fed reservoirs has not been a limitation. Hinman will usually apply 18 to 24 inches of water per year through his pivots. He can get three to four passes with the pivot between each alfalfa cutting, generally applying a total of 6 or more inches per crop. “Our primary pest issues are alfalfa weevils, grasshoppers, and aphids,” Hinman noted. “We try to sample soil every year so that our fertility stays in line. Our native soil pH around here is 8, so liming isn’t a concern.” When alfalfa stands are terminated,

Hinman will either rent the field to a neighbor who grows sugar beets or he will plant and harvest corn himself. If corn is grown, he’ll allow the beef cows to graze the stalks in the fall.

A unique hay market Most of Hinman’s large square bale production, especially the high-quality hay, is earmarked for Amish goat dairies near Kalona, Iowa. The tight-knit Amish community contacted Hardrock Farms after reading about its success in the World Forage Analysis Superbowl contest. Hinman has been selling to the Amish for nearly 10 years. Hinman explained that a typical Amish goat dairy will milk about 150 to 160 goats. “I service about 40 to 50 of these operations, and they demand that their hay test at least 180 relative feed value (RFV). As a group, the Amish line up the trucking to get the hay from our farm to Kalona, using mostly backhauls. They want all of their hay kept inside, so I bought a steel building and they came out and put it up. It’s been a really good relationship,” he added. Typically, Hinman stacks his large square bales outside and untarped. “We can’t tarp bales because the wind is so ferocious during the winter that tarps just get obliterated. A lot of people who move out here can’t tolerate the high-velocity winter winds and will move away pretty quickly or only stick around in the summer.” All of Hinman’s hay gets sampled and tested. He always strives for top-notch quality but his best effort to date was his entry into last year’s World Forage Analysis Superbowl. Hay that doesn’t meet goat-quality standards is sold to customers with beef cattle operations. In addition to his pure alfalfa fields, Hinman also harvests some acres of alfalfa-grass mixtures that are both his own and rented. He also has a few fields of pure orchardgrass that is generally harvested as small square bales. Small square bales account for about 15% of Hinman’s total production. “It’s basically Teri’s hobby,” he said with a smile. “There’s a big demand for the small squares because nobody wants to do them anymore. We ship a lot of ours to the horse and goat markets in Colorado.”

Hinman uses the “snap” test to gauge when his alfalfa is ready to bale. Once the stems break, he typically bales with the next dew occurrence.

A contest lifer Hinman’s foray into the hay contest world began about 20 years ago. Each year at the Wyoming State Fair, there is a hay show and contest as a part of the other annual festivities. It was here that Hinman began entering his best wares. The organizers of the Wyoming hay event always forward the best samples to the World Forage Analysis Superbowl in Wisconsin. Hardrock Farms, along with other Wyoming hay producers, have consistently had winning or high-placing entries in Madison. “Most of our contest entries are fourth cutting from the previous fall,” Hinman noted. “The cool temperatures and slow growth usually make for the best forage quality.” Hinman and his wife travel to Madison each year to take in World Dairy Expo and the activities surrounding the World Forage Analysis Superbowl. In doing so, they often stop to visit and have a meal with their Amish goat dairy friends in Iowa. Whether it’s for a contest, an Amish goat dairy, or Colorado horses, you can be sure that the hay being shipped from Hardrock Farms will be of top-notch quality. Sure, the environment helps, but it’s been a lifetime of honing his haymaking skills that is mostly responsible for Hinman’s success. And to think it all started at midnight in a rented alfalfa field. •

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FIVE KEYS to profitable grass-finished beef by Greg Halich S AN extension economist for the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky and also someone who has been finishing cattle for the past nine years on my own farm, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of farmers in Kentucky and other Eastern states. I have finished nearly 200 cattle myself, and what follows are my personal and professional observations for the key steps to establishing a profitable grass-finishing operation.

Plan and develop a finishing system Many people try to finish cattle on pasture simply by keeping some of their calves and waiting until they are ready for market. While this might work in some situations, having a reasonably good idea of how those calves will grow and building a production system so that they will be finished in conjunction with your marketing needs is a better long-term strategy. It will usually take cattle over two years to be well-finished on an all-forage diet (no concentrates, including soyhulls), thus, we are talking about multiyear planning. For most people, developing a production system will involve a fair amount of trial and error to find out what works, but coming up with realistic estimates is still needed to put you in the ballpark of when animals will be finished. Different regions of the country will have different finishing systems that work efficiently. For example, in the Deep South, cool-season annuals grow 20 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

well throughout the winter and can provide a perfect forage for finishing cattle. In the Fescue Belt, early summer or late-fall finishing on perennial pastures works best to avoid the worst effects of fescue toxicosis during the heat of the summer. In the Northeast, cooler summer climates combined with a lack of fescue allows for potentially efficient finishing throughout the summer. It’s always advisable to talk to other farmers in your area who are grass-finishing cattle to get ideas for systems that may work. Determine the age and final weight of the animals when finished. If they are finishing on a mostly perennial pasture system, and the animals are being harvested under 24 months, be skeptical of their system. For moderate-framed animals, you will want carcasses in the 675- to 800pound range for steers, and 625 to 725 pounds for heifers. From my experience, most animals are being harvested either below or on the low side of these ranges. So, ask a lot of questions and verify the numbers to ensure animals are being finished at an acceptable weight. In the end, you will likely have to make adjustments to your original finishing plan, but you will need something to guide your planning process.

Develop sound grazing strategies In almost every finishing conference or meeting that I’ve attended, forages seem to be the focus of the presentations and discussion. Forages are obviously important to finishing cattle, but, in my opinion, they are less important than your grazing plan for whatever forage base you may already have. Too many people become fixated

on finding the magic forage species for finishing cattle and take their eyes off of other important components such as developing a realistic finishing system (my first key) and improving their grazing management. The biggest mistake I see with grazing management is making cattle clean up too much of the pasture. To gain well, finishing cattle need both excellent forage quality and also the ability to maximize forage intake with every bite. The longer cattle are left on a pasture, the worse both of these factors become. This does not mean you need to move cattle every day. Moving cattle every day but not allocating enough pasture will give you poor results. In general, one- to three-day moves combined with appropriate-sized paddocks will be the best compromise between labor and grazing efficiency on most farms. Grazing management is more of an art than a science, and it is somewhat futile to give prescriptive instructions. You will need to develop your grazing “eye,” but until you have done that well, move the cattle quicker and give larger pasture allocations than you might think are necessary. It is better to give them too much feed than too little. Over time, you will learn what works best for your farm and management style. A word of caution: Typical cowherd grazing strategies will give poor results for finishing animals. If you are primarily a cow-calf operator who is looking at diversifying into finishing animals, you will likely have to make significant changes to your grazing strategies for the finishing cattle. A mature cow has an amazing amount of buffering for short periods of poor-quality forage through utilizing the fat on her back. With finishing animals, your primary goal is to put that fat on their backs, not take it off by forcing them to clean up pastures.

Determine a reasonable stocking rate Another mistake I see many finishers make is having an excessive stocking rate. It is difficult to be overstocked from mid-spring to early summer when forages are growing quickly, but, by midsummer, stocking rates that are too high will start creating problems. When forage availability drops below a certain threshold, gains start plummeting (see my second key). Once forage growth slows down, being

overstocked will compel you to rotate too quickly and force the cattle to clean up too much of the pasture. Once you get to this point, it is difficult to recover for the rest of the grazing season. It is hard to provide prescriptive stocking rate numbers (acres needed per finishing animal) due to differences in rainfall, soil productivity, grazing management, finishing systems (how long you will keep the animals), and so forth. However, during a year when rainfall is slightly below average, if available forage becomes limited by mid-summer, your pastures are overstocked. When forage availability is compromised, gains will quickly drop, and the remaining pasture resources will become stressed due to overgrazing. Even with normal rains in the fall, gains will likely be low due to forages that haven’t had adequate recovery time. This is the beginning of what I refer to as the downward spiral of overstocking. Having a low to moderate stocking rate is particularly important if you have a finishing system that requires good gains during the fall. As previously noted, acceptable gains require both good forage quality and enough quantity for cattle to have a high intake. The quality of cool-season pastures can be exceptional once temperatures moderate in early fall, but if pastures have been overgrazed, it will be difficult for you to get forage density to the point where intake is high. Finishing systems designed to have a portion of the animals harvested by early to midsummer will help reduce the effective stocking rate for those periods when forage availability is most limiting.

Learn to work at nature’s pace Many people think cattle can be finished on pasture in 18 to 22 months. Don’t believe it — not if your definition of finished means good marbling (USDA Medium Select or above), anyway. The only instance I have seen where animals were well-finished in this 18- to 22-month time frame is in the Deep South, where animals are on annuals during the entire postweaning period and were finished on cool-season annuals during the fall and winter. They were getting decent marbling, but, even in these situations, they had steer carcasses in the 600- to 650pound range. For maximum profit on

medium-framed steers, I like to see at least 700-pound hanging weights, with 750-pound carcasses preferred. I believe that the 18- to 22-month finishing target has been perpetuated by misinformation from so-called “experts” and by an embarrassment factor on the producer side for not realizing what appears to be an achievable benchmark. If we as grass-finishers hear that everyone else is finishing their animals in 18 to 22 months, we think we should be able to do the same. When we fail to have good finish on our animals at this point, we blame it on cattle genetics or management decisions. It becomes difficult to publicly challenge this paradigm and risk other people thinking we are incompetent if it is taking us 25 to 30 months. As a result, the myth continues, and we have more and more farmers who become frustrated with grass-finishing when they try to harvest animals before they are 2 years old. On my operation, steers are generally 26 to 30 months old at harvest, with some going as long as 32 to 33 months. However, these steers have carcass weights of 700 to 825 pounds with roughly half grading USDA low Choice or higher. You will not find those kind of numbers on a 18- to 22-month old steer that was not heavily supplemented with concentrates. An 18- to 22-month old steer is not physiologically mature, and we are trying to work against nature to finish it in this time frame. Yes, we can do it with a near 100% grain-finishing diet, but that is not the system we desire. If you are trying to finish on an all-forage diet, the key is to learn to work with nature and not fight against it with unnaturally high gains. Nature almost always wins.

Start small In my opinion, finishing cattle on pasture is an enterprise that you do not want to jump into quickly. Finishing cattle, just like grazing decisions, is more of an art than it is a science. You can follow a prescriptive protocol for finishing cattle with grain, and assuming you follow the directions, have fairly reliable and predictable results. This is not the case for grass-finishing cattle. There is too much variability and subjectivity in the process. Thus, my recommendation is to start small and to grow slowly.

It is possible to sell grass-finished cattle to aggregators who buy finished animals from you and do all the marketing, but most grass-finished producers market their own finished product either as freezer beef (selling quarter, halves, and full animals) or by selling retail cuts through farmers markets or in on-farm stores. In these cases, it is common for production to get ahead of the marketing, with animals that are finished but no market to sell them. A grow-slow approach will keep this type of situation and its magnitude to a minimum. Having to sell one finished animal to the stockyards would be a lesson learned with minor financial pain. Having to sell 10 finished animals to the stockyards would be a financial disaster. Selling finished beef directly to consumers involves a lot of steps and the learning curve will be steep for a few years, not just with production, but also with marketing and processing. Starting small and ramping up production slowly gives you time to learn and make mistakes without catastrophic consequences. •

For more information: This article is meant to be a beginning primer on some of the most important points for grass-finishing cattle. For more details, see the joint University of Kentucky and University of Missouri extension publication, “Producer’s Guide to Pasture-Based Beef Finishing.” This 45-page guide goes into much greater detail on pasture-based finishing and is available at: bit.ly/HFG-grassfinish. Also, the author has two videos on grass-finishing production from an August 2020 webinar: Grass-Finishing Myths: bit.ly/HFG-myths Systems for Grass-Finishing: bit.ly/HFG-grass-systems Halich can be contacted at greg.halich@ uky.edu or 859-321-9957.

GREG HALICH The author is an extension agricultural economist with the University of Kentucky and a grass-finishing cattle farmer in central Kentucky.

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 21


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by Jim Gerrish

How many grazing cycles in a year?


NE of the common questions that comes up when planning for a grazing season is how many times a pasture can safely be grazed each year. As you might expect, the answer is, “It depends.” More than anything else, it hinges on how much it rains, but it also is a function of latitude. My basic guideline is to plan one grazing event for each 10 inches of annual precipitation for those living in drier environments. I consider a drier environment to be one receiving less than about 25 inches annually. To determine how frequently you should graze a particular pasture, take your total annual inches of precipitation and divide it by 10. For example, if you receive 18 inches of annual precipitation, you could graze each pasture 1.8 times. What does that even mean? How do you graze a pasture 0.8 times? What it means is every pasture will be grazed once, and 80% of your pastures will be grazed a second time. Often, that means the first grazing is in the active growing season and the second grazing is during the dormant season. Those pastures grazed only once each year would be rotated on a five-year basis. Some pastures will get grazed twice during the growing season. The more pastures you have to work with, the easier this plan is to accomplish. If you only have three or four 24 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

pastures and your herd stays a couple months in each one, this strategy won’t make any sense at all. If you have 30 pastures, then it is very easy to implement.

More cycles with more rain In wetter environments, considered to be those receiving more than 30 inches of precipitation, we change the planning criteria to one grazing event per 7 inches of precipitation. It takes less water to grow a ton of feed in a wetter environment versus a drier one, and less recovery time is needed for the pasture. That means more grazing cycles are possible over the course of the growing season. If you receive 35 inches of annual precipitation, you would plan for five grazing cycles. What if you receive 56 inches of rainfall? Does that mean you should plan for eight grazing cycles? No, it doesn’t. Believe it or not, there is a lot of research that shows there is really no pasture production benefit to additional rainfall beyond about 40 inches. With excess rainfall beyond that point, the amount of runoff typically accelerates. There are more days when the soil is saturated and deficient in oxygen, so plant growth rate slows down.

Three new leaves Recovery time is the other side of the grazing frequency conversation. Between two successive grazing events,

there must be enough time for the plant to recover from the previous grazing event. The severity of the prior grazing event and subsequent growing conditions dictate the appropriate length of the recovery period. We can’t arbitrarily say that it must be 30 days or 100 days. We need to monitor the plant. For most cool-season grasses and some warm-season grasses, the indicator I like to use is the plant has recovered from grazing when a minimum of three new leaves have fully emerged. I mentioned latitude was another key factor in grazing response. This is still a water-related consideration. An inch of water at Northern latitudes will grow more forage than an inch of water at a more Southern latitude. Some people have a hard time with this concept, but it is really quite simple. Lower temperatures in the North result in reduced evaporative water loss, so there is more soil water available for plant use. Northern soils tend to have higher organic matter than Southern soils, which typically results in a higher water holding capacity. Longer day length at the peak of the growing season means more hours of photosynthesis every day. The net result of these factors is a faster plant growth rate. For latitudes north of 44 degrees, we use 7 inches as our grazing cycle factor for dry environments and 5 inches for wet environments.

Adjust for conditions Remember, these are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Growing conditions in individual seasons must always be considered. Differences in soil type and soil health also affect water relationships and growth rates. There were times in Missouri when I grazed eight or nine cycles in a year with 38 to 40 inches of annual precipitation. There have been times I have grazed a paddock under a center pivot in Idaho only twice with over 30 inches of applied water. Guidelines like these can help you plan your grazing season, but they are not the plan. • 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.

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by Michael Casler


ORTY years is a long time to be doing one thing, but it would seem a lot longer if that thing was not truly relevant. My 40 years of grass breeding have flown by thanks to a few key members of the grazing community. While I am the author and subject of this story, the story is not about me but rather a tribute to how outreach or extension is a two-way street. Just as important as the flow of information and knowledge from researcher to producer is the reverse flow of questions, enthusiasm, and feedback to create the foundation for relevant research. I came to Wisconsin in 1980 and, like any other 25-year-old researcher fresh out of college, had to learn the publish or perish rule. I caught on fast and was pretty good at it — I got a kick out of seeing my name in print in some high-profile journals. But it still nagged at me that the only people who cared about my work were other people like me. It was sort of like preaching to the choir.

Took it to the farm Things began to change when Carl Fredericks called and asked me if I wanted to come to a meeting of graziers to talk about some of their needs. Of course, I didn’t know then what a grazier was, which led to my response, “Why me?” Thankfully, I went to that first meeting with an open mind and allowed 26 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

myself to be caught up in the spirit and enthusiasm of this grazing community. What better place for a grass breeder to find a calling than to be welcomed into the fold of a community of grass-based livestock producers? Graziers Mike and Char Cannell, Vince and Barb Garvoille, Dan Patenaude, and Doug Spany all welcomed our research team onto their farms. This was a true research partnership in which the graziers provided the land, livestock, and the critical expertise in grazing management. The University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Ag Systems (UW CIAS) provided the funding. We shared grass varieties and expertise in data collection, evaluating almost 100 grass varieties for their response and tolerance to grazing. The results were published in numerous producer-oriented magazines and newspapers. One of the most important findings was to discover that meadow fescue was one of the surprising “winners” of the variety tests. This led to an intensive marketing and distribution program by Barenbrug USA to provide meadow fescue seed for graziers in the northern U.S. Before he retired, Peter Pitts was a beef producer near Spring Green, Wis. When he learned that I was interested in something called festulolium (a cross between meadow fescue and perennial ryegrass), he asked me to come out to his farm and look at one of his “abused” pastures. It was an old pasture that had been intensively grazed for many years, and very few festulolium plants were still alive.

We dug up those plants and worked with Crystal Fricker of Pure Seed Testing in Oregon to develop the new variety Spring Green. This has been a very successful variety, planted on hundreds of thousands of acres of pastureland. There is no question in my mind that the success of Spring Green festulolium is due to Pitt’s original idea and initiative, combined with his participation in the documentation of the performance of Spring Green, and with his participation in the marketing and distribution of seed.

Either my wife or Charles Charles Opitz is probably the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever known when it comes to grass biology and management. He learned about my involvement with the grazing community early on. He also learned very quickly that I like to come into the office about 6 a.m. I have always joked with friends and colleagues that when the phone rings at 6 a.m., it’s either my wife with trouble or Charles Opitz wanting to talk about grass. Over the years, Optiz and I had count-

MICHAEL CASLER The author is a forage grass breeder at USDA’s U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, Wis.

less phone conversations, mostly talking about grass biology, genetics, and management, but often evolving into politics and other subjects, too. These conversations led to numerous visits to his farm, Hidden Valley Farms, near Mineral Point, Wis. None of these visits were as important as when he asked me to come to the farm and identify a grass that had him stumped. I’ve told this story many times over the years, so to make a very long story short, he had discovered meadow fescue on his farm and his cattle loved it! While my team and I worked at identifying the grass, he simply baled it up and fed hay to his cattle during winter, allowing the cattle to spread fescue seed through their manure. My next trip to the farm showed me the result — meadow fescue on over 1,000 acres of pastureland. I was astounded, but I shouldn’t have been. This was simply Optiz being Opitz, the grass expert. With Opitz’s help, and more funding from the UW CIAS, we identified hundreds of pastures containing meadow fescue, some with near-perfect stands.

These were located in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Interviews with families who have had a long history in this area indicated that these meadow fescue populations were not planted with seed from modern varieties. We concluded from these interviews that meadow fescue was brought into this region during the 1800s and early 1900s, either from immigrants or from cattle that were brought up from Southern states for summer grazing, or both.

A new variety Our collaboration with Opitz led to the development and release of the variety Hidden Valley, for which seed sales began during the winter of 2018 to 2019. Geoff Brink, who is retired from the USDA, was a great collaborator who documented the agronomic value of Hidden Valley. Seed production of Hidden Valley was a long and difficult process for many reasons. In the end, Larry Smith, a grazier and veterinarian near Viroqua, Wis., came to the rescue and offered to

produce enough seed for us to make Hidden Valley available. He brokered a deal between Byron Seed Company and Grassworks Inc., a Wisconsin producer-led grazing organization, so that the latter receives a small royalty on seed sales. A partnership with Barenbrug USA led to the development of a second variety from this region, Driftless, which will be available in 2021 or 2022. I am truly thankful for my interactions with all of these colleagues, as well as others not listed here. I am thankful that each of these individuals reached out to me with patience and encouragement for me to become a willing and able participant in this mutually beneficial relationship between researchers and forage producers. I have had a much more interesting and enjoyable career as a result of these relationships. Forty years ago, I could never have predicted or expected that I would come to feel myself as a member of such a community, and that this community would be so important in developing a new species and new varieties for pasture improvement. •

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 27

less opportunity for partial irrigation than grain. Vegetative growth of small grains requires adequate irrigation and is crucial for producing high forage yields.

Target corn growth stages



ESTRICTING the amount of water that a crop needs is not an ideal strategy to produce forages. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary. Partial irrigation can be defined as any irrigation strategy that does not meet the full evapotranspiration demand of a crop. Evapotranspiration is simply the total water use of the crop through evaporation and transpiration. Partial irrigation is dictated in some cases due to water shortages, water right restrictions, irrigation system failures, or other related reasons. It might also be a strategic choice in some cases for income through water leasing (or “water banks”), or where conservation payments or program incentives support cutting back on irrigation. Whether intentional or not, partial irrigation will often cause yield, quality, and profit loss. Partial irrigation strategies with varying effectiveness can be employed in many cases to maximize production and profit. These strategies can include modifying irrigation schedules, concentrating irrigation to critical crop growth stages, reducing rates, terminating irrigation early, or improving irrigation efficiency in a variety of ways. The crop of interest will also impact best partial irrigation practices. General considerations for partial irrigation of alfalfa, small grain forage, corn silage, and teff grass hay will be discussed here and followed by recent research results.

Alfalfa is a scavenger Alfalfa is naturally drought tolerant. Its lengthy root systems can reach 28 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

over 15 feet deep, providing access to a greater soil volume to scavenge water. Alfalfa also has a unique ability to go into drought-induced dormancy when water is scarce. This feature allows for irrigation to cease at almost any time during the growing season without permanent damage to the stand. This approach of ceasing irrigation is usually superior to keeping it dull green with little to no alfalfa growth. When irrigation or soil moisture can resume to adequate levels, plants break the induced dormancy and resume growth – often returning to full production levels. Alfalfa uses water most efficiently during spring growth, so irrigation should be targeted earlier rather than later in the season, if possible. The first cutting will use about 5 acre-inches of evapotranspiration per ton of alfalfa, compared to about 7 acre-inches for later cuttings. Plus, the first cutting is usually the highest yielding crop. Initially, target alfalfa partial irrigation to the most productive alfalfa land — areas with the best soils, best irrigation efficiency, best alfalfa stem density, least weeds, youngest alfalfa, and/or the best varieties.

Small grains are early users Small grains such as wheat, barley, and oats are good annual forage crops during a drought because their water use is early in the season when greater precipitation and spring runoff generally occur. Forage harvest generally occurs in June or July and requires no late water, except for late planting or double cropping scenarios. Small grain forages require slightly less total irrigation than small grains harvested for grain, but they also have

Expected water supply and timing of availability should be considered before planting corn to ensure the plants can reach maturity. It is a large investment to plant corn, and partial irrigation strategies will be of little value if no grain is produced to enhance corn silage yield and quality. If water availability is uncertain or water may not be available through the whole growing season, consider other cropping options. When planting corn, selecting appropriate hybrids is important. For example, shorter day corn that matures quicker can be planted in cases where water may not be available toward the end of the growing season. Target partial irrigation to critical growth stages where near full irrigation levels are crucial to yield determination. These include tasseling, silk, and yield formation. The best time to water stress corn, if needed, is generally during the vegetative and ripening stages. Since grain is such a vital part of good quality corn silage, strategies for partial irrigation of corn silage are usually similar to those for partially irrigating corn grain.

Teff requires little water Teff is known as a drought tolerant crop that thrives on low irrigation levels at frequent intervals. It is planted in early summer (early to mid-June) in most areas, which generally allows for early water (pre-June) to be concentrated on other crops. Early summer planting generally allows for two cuttings with the first yielding more than the second. Few partial irrigation studies have been published for teff, but recent research in the Pacific Northwest showed teff required about half the amount of irrigation that alfalfa requires, and that excessive irrigation decreased forage quality. Given the lower irrigation

MATT YOST The author is an agroclimate extension specialist at Utah State University.

requirement of teff compared to other forages, it may not require partial irrigation. If partial irrigation is desired, the best strategies may include planting in mid-July and only harvesting once and/or increasing irrigation frequency and reducing the rate such that less total water is used than for other forages.

Impact of three partial irrigation strategies on alfalfa, three-way small grain forage, silage corn, and teff grass yield.1,2

And the research says . . . A team of researchers at Utah State University started testing partial irrigation strategies for major forage crops in 2019. We evaluated irrigating corn silage at a site near Logan, Utah, with full irrigation (as close to potential evapotranspiration as possible) compared to a 25%, 50%, and a targeted 50% reduction in total irrigation rates for the growing season. This was accomplished by adjusting sprinkler nozzle sizes on a linear irrigation system. The 50% targeted rate applied half the total irrigation for the season, but this irrigation was targeted toward critical growth stages such as during corn tasseling or mid- to late-vegetative growth for other forages. This work was repeated and expanded in 2020 to include sites in Logan and Vernal, Utah. Logan included a new alfalfa stand with two cuttings and corn silage, while Vernal included spring three-way forage (wheat, oat, and barley), teff, and corn silage (see figure). Alfalfa: Two cuttings of alfalfa were harvested in 2020 in Logan. A total of 13.5 inches of irrigation was applied for both cuttings for the full irrigation rate. When irrigation was reduced by 25%, alfalfa yield was reduced by an average of about 0.75 tons per acre (20%) total for the two cuts. A 50% reduction in irrigation produced an average of 30% less yield (1.15 tons per acre). Results were mixed for the 50% targeted irrigation. It was much worse than the straight 50% reduction for the first cutting but much better in the second cutting. Small grain forage: The full irrigation rate for the three-way small grain forage in Vernal was 15 inches. This irrigation rate produced a yield of 4.2 tons per acre. All three partial irrigation strategies lowered yield by an average of 1.5 tons per acre (35%). These results show that the two 50% irrigation reductions were equal to the 25% reduction, which signified that the larger reduction of 50% can be made without losing extra forage yield and that targeting the 50% reduction provided no benefit. Corn silage: Corn silage was evaluated in three growing seasons at two sites. The 25% reduction in irrigation rate always produced the same yield as the full irrigation rate in all three conditions. This means that a small reduction in irrigation all season might be ideal for partial irrigation. The 50% irrigation reduction was not as consistent. In Logan, only the targeted 50% irrigation reduction lowered yield in 2019 by an average of 2 tons per acre (9% loss). The next year, results were similar for Logan and Vernal, where both 50% reductions in irrigation reduced silage yields by 3 to 9 tons per acre (7% to 23% loss). The targeted 50% rate was never superior to the flat 50% reduction. Teff: Three teff varieties were evaluated for their response to partial irrigation in Vernal in 2020. The full irrigation rate was 12 inches. The 25% reduction in irrigation rate decreased the teff yield of only one variety (Dessie) by 1 ton per acre (27% loss). The 50% reductions always lowered yield by 17% to 42% for all three varieties. These results demonstrated that some varieties can handle partial irrigation better than others.

Looking forward Partial irrigation research at Utah State University is ongoing. In 2021, we will continue our work in Logan and

1/ Silage corn yield is reported at 65% moisture and the other three are at 13% moisture. 2/ Within each crop, bars with the same color are statistically the same with the same lowercase letter.

Vernal and will also include a third site in Cedar City. Forage quality, crop profit, and water use efficiency are in the process of being summarized. Though preliminary, our results to date have shown that 25% reductions in irrigation of forages result in zero to 35% loss in crop yield, depending on the crop. These 25% irrigation reductions were usually but not always superior to 50% reductions, and corn handled this reduction better than other crops. We found no advantages of targeting 50% reductions in irrigation rates compared to a flat 50% reduction all season. Both 50% reductions decreased yield by 7% to 35% across crops. As more data is collected, these recommendations will be refined to further guide best practices for partial irrigation of forages. • February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 29


by Jeff Lehmkuhler

ces bacteria and fungi. The disorder impairs the lungs and can lead to pneumonia-like conditions. Storing feedstuffs that are too wet has been shown to accelerate the growth of these microbes, and disturbance of the feeds launches a number of these microorganisms into the air. These microbes can be inhaled, leading to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which makes it difficult to breath. Similar symptoms were observed in these calves. The calves were moved to stockpiled forage, away from the hay, and health improved.

Calves wouldn’t eat

Don’t get bold if your hay has mold


ORAGE quality test results can tell us a lot about a forage. However, we also need to consider aspects that could impact hay during storage. Weather changes have provided producers in our region opportunities to cut hay later in the fall. Shorter day length and heavy dews can make drying a challenge. If hay is baled with greater moisture than ideal, the consequences can be severe. Indulge me a bit while I share a couple of recent farm situations. The first involves alfalfa hay — the “Queen of Forages.” Not many beef operations produce alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mix hay for beef cattle in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This operation had weaned calves and was providing grass hay and a grain supplement. A spot check of weight taken a month postweaning revealed calves averaged 569 pounds with an average daily gain of 3.2 pounds since weaning. These calves were eating the hay aggressively, and some of the weight gain was a result of gut fill. Regardless, the calves had good performance up to this point. Exactly one week later, weights were taken again. On average, the calves weighed 548 pounds. 30 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

They had lost an average of 21 pounds in seven days! Yes, this would be an average daily loss of 3 pounds per day. Several calves were coughing excessively; one calf was showing symptoms of severe respiratory distress. What happened? First, I checked the waterers, as severe weight loss can be a result of fouled water and reduced intake. The waterers were relatively clean. Next, I looked at the hay. Bingo! This was alfalfa hay, not the grass hay that was offered the first four weeks. In September, a last cutting of alfalfa was baled. However, weather conditions changed and forced the alfalfa to be baled before it was completely dry. The farm ran out of the grass hay and fed this alfalfa hay, which now was about six weeks postbaling. There was excessive mold, and some areas were black. Older literature can be found related to farmer’s lung disease, a disorder associated with livestock managers who are exposed to moldy hay and the inhalation of mold spores. Organisms believed to be associated with this disorder are reported to be Actinomy-

The second farm situation involved a cereal crop forage harvested for hay. When cut at boot stage, cereal crop forages, generally rye in this area, can be decent quality. Rye can be tricky, though, as it matures early, and fields that are poorly drained make it a challenge to harvest rye in early spring. The farm manager thought the hay would be in the 10% to 12% protein range and mid-50s for total digestible nutrients (TDN), but he had not tested it. This hay was being fed to high-risk, light-weight, backgrounding calves. We visited the operation due to issues of high morbidity and mortality rates. The concern from the manager was calves not wanting to eat. After getting the forage test results, the hay was notably lower in quality than expected, being only 7% crude protein and in the low 50s for TDN. This category of animal is stressed from weaning, shipping, and commingling and will often have low intakes the first few days after arrival. Lightweight calves are also in a lean phase of growth, needing sufficient protein for muscle accretion. The recommended total dietary protein content for these calves with normal intake would be 14% to 16%. Formulating a complete diet and assuming hay is

JEFF LEHMKUHLER The author is an extension beef specialist with the University of Kentucky.

11% protein when it’s actually only 7% can lead to a calf being shorted by 30% to 35% of its daily protein needs. This deficiency can reduce immune response and lower performance. Upon inspection of the rye hay, it was clearly baled mature and too wet. Some bales heated and caramelized, which would lower protein and energy availability. Other bales were moldy and had black areas within the bales. When managing stressed, light-weight calves, it is critical they are not forced to eat moldy forages. Spoiled feeds have been shown to reduce intakes of cattle. Calves of this type need soft-leaved second or third cutting grass hay that is mold free.

More evidence Wet hay or wet feed placed in storage can provide an environment for growth fungi, including Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium. Production of mycotoxins from the growth of these organisms is of concern. Mycotoxins can lead to organ damage, weakened or suppressed

immune systems, impaired reproduction, respiratory stress, and, in severe cases, death. In a field case, young, male Holstein calves that consumed aflatoxin-contaminated feeds resulted in 17% mortality rates and enhanced prevalence of Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) virus in affected calves. Once a feed free of mycotoxins was provided, no further cases were noted. The last thing we want in newly received feeder calves in a backgrounding operation is a suppressed immune system from mycotoxin exposure. A case study in Missouri involved second cutting alfalfa-orchardgrass hay, which was baled too wet, being offered to cattle. It resulted in 18 out of the 29 animals developing liver disease. This was thought to be the result of mycotoxins produced from the Aspergillus found in the forage. In another field case, a retrospective investigation of bulls managed at a Finnish bull stud revealed a link between a significant reduction in

semen quality, which included poor motility and larger numbers of abnormal sperm cells for a period of five months, with being fed hay contaminated with Fusarium mycotoxins. There is no single test that tells us the full picture, but each piece of information helps to evaluate the feeding value of a feedstuff. Often, we rely solely on proximate analysis results or those from near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) for nutrient concentrations to develop our feeding program. However, it’s also worth the extra effort and time to evaluate hay for mold, especially if it was baled wetter than is recommended. Consider having moldy hay tested for mycotoxins. The best approach is to reduce the risk of mold growth by baling at the appropriate moisture. Also, consider preservatives as an option to limit mold growth. Here is to hoping all your hay is put up in ideal conditions and mold free! Have a great 2021 hay production year, and may your barns be full of quality forage. •

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 31


by John Goeser

Forage for when the water runs out


HE environment and ground we grow forage on continue to change each year. If the United States could allocate moisture from rainfall throughout the continent, growers would be in fantastic shape. Yet, this utopian idea is far from reality, as there is disproportionate rainfall from the East to West coasts. This insight is far from newsworthy. Yet, the ways growers are adapting is. Growers in the central and eastern U.S. have experienced tumultuous growing seasons over the past five years. With excessive moisture, plant health and feed hygiene have suffered, but hybrid disease resistance and crop protection are further coming into focus for agronomists and growers. Turning our attention to the South and West, the growing environment has been a stark contrast.

Maximize efficiency In these arid regions, growers rely on irrigation through the heart of the season. Corn grows well, but it carries a substantial water need. In some areas, water is available at a cost. In other regions, water is running out and may not be available at any price. As a result, progressive growers are seeking more water efficient crops that also can yield dairy-quality forage. Water-use efficiency can be thought 32 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

of like the appliance efficiency rating on your water heater or other home appliances. An appliance’s efficiency rating relates to the energy required to get the job done. With forage, water-use efficiency ratings equate to the amount of water needed to grow the crop to harvest maturity. Efficiency discussions are catching on with agribusinesses. For example, my Google news feed routinely suggests popular press articles exploring efficiency opportunities in farming. Efficiency in grain production is commonly discussed, but, with grain discussions, quantifying efficiency is much easier than with dairy forage production. This is because the yield for grain is quantified in bushels. Dairy or beef total yield at harvest maturity is also relatively simple to determine, but growers need to consider quality with their partial budgets and make decisions based upon digestible yield. More on this shortly. Putting my University of Wisconsin academic hat on and searching through scientific published articles instead of the popular press, I found many useful references. To aid this discussion, I centered on one review article discussing pearl millet relative to corn and sorghum, which was published by Bishwoyog Bhattarai and his colleagues

at Texas Tech University. The article discussed how the Ogallala Aquifer, which is tapped to irrigate crops in the Texas Panhandle, is rapidly drying up.

Grow forage with less water Back to my earlier point — if growers continue with their current practices, irrigation will not be an option. The authors focused on water-use efficiency, recognizing that corn for silage requires 27 to 35 inches of water, whereas sorghum and pearl millet require 13 to 27 inches and 15 to 23 inches of water, respectively. Put differently, sorghum or pearl millet use less than two-thirds the amount of water relative to corn. So, sorghum or pearl millet are more efficient with water, but does this translate into an economically efficient alternative forage? This has been the topic of interest in quite a few discussions involving growers and dairy producers. In one exemplary discussion with a

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.

progressive grower, a couple of dairy producers, and a nutrition consultant, we brainstormed ways to better assess which alternative forages might be more economically sustainable for both the dairies and the grower. We had reasonable numbers on yield and crop production costs per acre, but we needed to estimate digestible yield per acre.

Consider nutrient yield We mapped out how to calculate total digestible nutrient (TDN) value per ton, and then multiplied this by yield to determine “TDN yield” while using today’s advanced forage analysis. This is the same basic approach taken in determining milk per acre with the Milk2006 spreadsheet. However, Milk2006 is now dated and does not consider the more accurate nutrient digestion measures today’s nutritionist uses, such as total tract neutral detergent fiber (NDF) digestibility (TTNDFD), which was developed over the past decade by David Combs with the University of Wisconsin. Work with your nutritionist to esti-

mate TDN with each forage you are considering, and follow The Ohio State University’s road map from Bill Wiess using summative energy equations. There are a few different ways to go about this, but the basic approach equates to summing up digestible nutrient amounts. In our discussion, my crude approach was to use constant digestion coefficients for crude protein, sugar, and fat. Then we used in situ rumen starch digestibility at 7 hours (isSD7) and TTNDFD to determine total tract digestible starch and fiber, respectively. The resulting TDN% equated to summing these fractions: • Digestible crude protein • Digestible sugar • Digestible fat • NDF x TTNDFD (percent of NDF) • Starch multiplied by total tract starch digestibility (percent of starch, determined from isSD7). The TDN% values were all in the 60s, meaning that a little more than 6 tons out of every 10 tons of forage were actually digestible by high-performing cows. We then multiplied TDN% by

yield (tons of dry matter) to robustly compare our options. We recognized that sorghum fell short of corn silage in TDN yield per acre. Next, we considered production cost per acre and determined cost per ton of TDN. Here is where the gap narrowed, with alternatives costing considerably less per acre than corn. We only included corn for a benchmark in this exercise. We set out to determine the best corn alternative, recognizing that water availability was waning. This is a fairly complex approach, but, in summary, make sure you cover these points in your discussion and budgeting: • Production cost per acre • Dry matter yield • Total digestible nutrient percentage • Calculated TDN yield • Calculated cost per ton of TDN The last bullet point is the key metric to compare your forage options, putting different options on the same playing field. Work with your nutritionist, agronomist, seed adviser, and other key stakeholders to find the economically efficient forage to plant when water is being restricted. •

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FORAGE IQ Society for Range Management Virtual Annual Meeting February 15 to 18 Details: rangelands.org Midwest Forage Symposium (virtual) February 16 and 17 Details: midwestforage.org Alfalfa U (virtual) February 16 – Colorado region February 18 – Kansas region March 4 – Washington region Details: hpj.com/alfalfau Idaho Hay & Forage Conference February 18, Twin Falls, Idaho Details: idahohay.com SW Missouri Spring Forage Conference February 23 and 24 Details: springforageconference.com Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshops February 23 to 25, virtual evenings March 18, Athens, Ga. March 23, Mt. Vernon, Mo. March 25, Lexington, Ky. Details: grasslandrenewal.org/education Alfalfa & Stored Forage Conference February 25, Elizabethtown, Ky. Details: forages.ca.uky.edu Southern Indiana Grazing Conference March 10, Odon, Ind. Details: daviesscoswcd.org/sigc Cattle Industry Convention NCBA Trade Show August 10 to 12, Nashville, Tenn. Details: convention.ncba.org


Prices remain steady to stronger There is no indication that hay prices are dropping as we head into the dog days of winter. In fact, there is slight improvement in some states. December 1 hay stocks were down marginally from one year ago, and the same was true for 2020 hay production, according to USDA. Alfalfa hay pro-

duction was down 3.3% last year. With grain prices as high as they’ve been in six years, hay demand should remain strong through winter. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of the beginning of February. 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 (northern SJV) California (Sacramento Valley) California (southeast) Idaho (northeast) Kansas (south central) Kansas (southwest) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Nebraska (western) Oregon (Klamath Basin) South Dakota Texas (Panhandle) Texas (west)-ssb Premium-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV)-ssb California (southern)-ssb California (southeast) Colorado (southeast) Colorado (southeast)-ssb Iowa Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (northeast) Kansas (south central) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Montana-ssb Oklahoma (central) Oregon (eastern) Oregon (Klamath Basin)-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota-lrb Texas (Panhandle) Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (western)-ssb Good-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV) Colorado (northeast) Colorado (southeast) Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (north central) Kansas (south central)-lrb Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Pipestone)-ssb Missouri Montana Nebraska (central) Nebraska (eastern)-lrb Oklahoma (central) Oregon (Lake County) Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

Price $/ton 273 265-285 210 190 200 190-200 160-230 200-250 200-225 275 200-260 260-280 300 Price $/ton 270 250 190 225 240 290-325 165-170 186-193 175 190-200 160-200 225 170 185 190-200 220-260 150-170 245-260 280 210-225 Price $/ton 255 185-190 210 130-153 150 110 150-170 120-210 130 120-160 150 150-175 105 150 180 185-255 185 113-118

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

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

38 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

225 170 90-130 170-180 Price $/ton 160 200 150 140 150-155 90-118 95 145 120-175 105-120 100-125 125-130 103-110 140-160 155-160 140 Price $/ton 90-93 100-133 190-195 280-330 120-130 Price $/ton 80 100 140 Price $/ton 250 200 230-270 165-240 Price $/ton 210-240 200 290-305 150 300 Price $/ton 213 160 145 68-78 Price $/ton 200 100 90-110 100-140 120 75








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.

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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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digestibility in humans, excellent emulsification, heat stability, and good water solubility. But the green fraction has negative sensory properties causing undesirable texture, taste, and smell. Discarding the green fraction would reduce the protein yield by half, which would prevent extraction from being financially viable.

She estimates the second step in future research would be to look into the sensory properties of the green protein fraction to find ways to make it more enticing. Kim also discussed using enzymatic hydrolysis to produce peptides, which are short strings of amino acids that are easier to digest and offer improved solubility

and sensory properties. Peptides produced from alfalfa leaf protein had high nutritive values and good antioxidative properties and could be used as functional foods, nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, and constituents of pharmaceuticals. To view the project’s final report, visit www.alfalfa.org. •

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Manage belowground starch for healthy pastures by Larry York


NE way to think about plants is as sugar factories. But they are a funny type of factory where the product they make is also used to make the factory larger. Sugar is produced in the leaves using sunlight in the process of photosynthesis. Plants make lots of complicated decisions about whether to invest this sugar into further leaf growth, the creation of defensive compounds, root growth, seed production, and/or storage. This latter option is important in perennial species where the same plant lives across multiple seasons. These are life-or-death decisions for the plant because only the most successful will survive and fill the world with their offspring. In native grasslands or introduced pastures, you may find several warm-season perennial species, such as big bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, bermudagrass, and others. Perennial species have difficult decisions to make throughout the year regarding how to utilize their precious sugar. These decisions are largely driven by the inability of the aboveground leaves to be able to survive freezing temperatures in winter.

Sugar to starch Sugar is accumulated in the shoots during summer and, in the fall, is translocated to the root system where it is largely converted to starch for long-term storage and winter survival. One perennial grass is well-known for its ability to accumulate sugar — it’s called sugar cane. This major agricultural crop is an example of humans interfering with the complex yearly sugar cycle of perennial plants to make an essential economic product. Research indicates that in some perennial grasses, 5% of the sugar produced may eventually be translocated to the belowground organs, including stolons, rhizomes, or roots, depending on the species. The sugar is converted to starch, which can pack more energy 22 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2021

Over grazing interferes with winter storage, leading to poor spring revival and low stand recovery. (Blue equals sugar, and yellow equals starch.)

into a smaller area; we are familiar with this concept in our own diet if we eat potatoes. This starch may represent up to 10% of belowground dry weight in early winter, which, in Oklahoma grasslands, may be equivalent to approximately 300 pounds of starch per acre. The starch yield of potatoes can be more than 5,000 pounds per acre. A good starch reserve is essential for early growth in spring to produce new leaves and roots, largely replacing the role of seed reserves. Once enough leaves and roots are produced, the plant sustains growth by active root uptake of soil resources, such as water and nutrients. It uses its leaves for photosynthesis, leading to a new cycle of sugar accumulation and eventual translocation to belowground organs for winter storage.

Growth provides sugars Grazing is a natural part of perennial grasslands. Counterintuitively, some level of grazing is needed to maximize plant growth by forcing the plant’s “reach” in order to regain lost leaf tissue. However, overgrazing in spring or early summer will reduce a plant’s ability to grow enough leaves to satisfy plant growth and sugar accumulation.

Overgrazing in late summer and fall will rob sugar from the translocation process so that it never makes it to the roots and is never converted to starch; therefore, it is not available for spring growth. Without this reserve starch, stands will suffer and lose ground cover as they fail to successfully overwinter and green up in the spring. Producers need to think carefully about managing their plant’s sugar factories for storing sufficient starch belowground for next year’s growth. This is accomplished by implementing intentional grazing strategies, such as rotational grazing. Using a rotational grazing strategy that allows for variation in timing and intensity of grazing events ensures these perennial grasses will regularly go through healthy spring green up and fall starch-accumulation cycles. •

LARRY YORK The author is an assistant professor with the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Okla.


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category include orchardgrass, chicory, red clover, and white clover.

Finding the sweet spot The Baumans adapt their stocking rates throughout the year to match the available forage. This past year, with ample forage availability, they were able to stock at 55,000 pounds on 50 acres for two months during late spring and early summer. “We bring more on in the spring during peak growth and move some off in fall when the grass slows down,” he explained. At times, when the grass grows faster than Bauman can move cattle, cool-season grasses are left standing, but areas with bermudagrass need a little more

South Polls fit well on this grass-fed farm by C.J. Weddle S THE 2020 summer intern at Hay & Forage Grower magazine, I was fortunate to have earned the opportunity to travel and seek stories on my own from start to finish. Throughout my summer experience, I learned the real-world ropes of agricultural journalism. What I found on my final solo venture of the summer was a house on a hill that was surrounded by a pasture full of cattle. It was the home farm for Grant Bauman and his family in Vienna, Ill. Both Bauman and his wife, Casey, come from row-crop backgrounds but preferred to raise cattle on their own 50-acre farm. All 50 acres, plus any other land that the Baumans may rent, are pastures used for adaptive grazing. Although the couple uses round-baled hay for winter feeding, it is bought from local hay producers. Casey and their two daughters, Hadley and Brett, move the cattle each day to a new grazing area. The family has been through several breeds to find a temperament and genetic combination that suits their farm and preferences. They settled on South Polls. South Poll is a composite breed, which consists of an equal percentage of Barzona, Hereford, Senepol, and Red

Angus. The breed was created with the intent of offering animals that tolerated warm-climate grazing and finished well on grass. Credit for creating the South Poll breed is given to Teddy Gentry, who is more famously known as the bass player in the band Alabama.

Tall fescue with diversity According to Bauman, his cattle do well in his pasture-based system, which primarily relies on tall fescue as a forage source. The South Polls on the Baumans’ farm are very docile. Just like the Baumans have adapted their breed of choice to fit their farm, the couple manages their pastures in the same adaptive manner. Calling southern Illinois home, Bauman strives to keep his cattle on pasture 300 days out of the year. But as all farmers know, some years you get more, while others you get less than what you hoped for. Although the grazing base consists primarily of tall fescue, there is added diversity. Bauman and his daughters will occasionally walk through the pastures to count the different plant types. “One time, we counted 30 different species growing in a small area,” he said. “Most of it comes up volunteer, but sometimes we seed in species we want to utilize.” Some in the latter

Farming is a family affair for Casey (left) and Grant Bauman, along with their daughters Brett and Hadley. Since the photo was taken, the family welcomed a new baby boy, Pryor, into their ranks.

attention. “The bermudagrass will turn to cardboard, and the cows won’t touch it, so we keep an eye out for those areas and may have to clip it back if it gets too far ahead of the rotation,” he said. “We manage three things: soil, plants, and animals,” Bauman chimed. “They are all connected. You have to have good soil to grow good plants to raise healthy animals.” Being flexible with your herd and grazing routines to meet your farm’s needs is an important part of the adaptive grazing theory that Bauman and his family implement on their operation each day. •

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.

February 2021 | hayandforage.com | 25

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