Hay & Forage Grower - Aug/Sept 2021

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August/September 2021

Taking a shot at the grazing game pg 6 Leaves and LEAF

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Corn silage harvest timing in your pocket pg 16 Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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Dewing it the small way

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Superior forage quality starts with a superior corn head

Brian Nunes runs Krone EasyCollect corn heads on his John Deere choppers because he says they are “the best on the market.” Here’s why: • “The Krone head feeds the corn in butt first so your length of cut stays consistent.” • “Servicing is a lot faster and costs less than other heads.” • “This head requires less horsepower so we get more ground speed.” • “It’s reliable…I’m confident this head will run every day, all day.” In addition, the Krone EasyCollect corn head’s exclusive design can deliver superior performance in down corn.

Brian Nunes


That Krone corn head performs so much better. It’s the #1 head.

Aaron Schipper


Good news for ALL chopper owners: Krone offers corn head conversion kits for many models of John Deere, Claas and New Holland forage harvesters.

August/September 2021 · VOL. 36 · No. 5 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



Taking a shot at the grazing game With affordable pasture land hard to come by in the middle of row-crop country, this Ohio couple purchased an abandoned golf course to graze their herd of British Whites.

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 8 Beef Feedbunk 12 Alfalfa Checkoff 18 Feed Analysis 19 The Pasture Walk



26 Dairy Feedbunk 27 Forage Gearhead 38 Forage IQ

Net wrap accumulates in cows fed ground hay

Find the hay-feeding days sweet spot

The evidence is mounting that net wrap should be removed prior to hay grinding.

Here’s a deep dive into the numbers that drive optimum hay-feeding days.

38 Hay Market Update






















Alfalfa hay is steamed and baled in the early morning hours on the Arizona desert near Buckeye. Bales Hay Farm & Ranch harvests about 2,000 acres of hay each year. Their customer base is comprised primarily of horse owners and retail stores. In 2021, Bales Hay purchased two of Staheli West’s new hay steamers for small square balers in hopes of widening their baling window. Read more about their experience beginning on page 22. 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.

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Baking Ham


Mike Rankin Managing Editor

HERE are lots of reasons for doing things the way we do them — time savings, research proven, effectiveness, preference, cost, and yes, even tradition. There’s an old story about the new bride who was fixing a meal for her husband. On the menu was ham. Her husband noticed that his wife was cutting off both ends of the ham before putting it into the baking pan. “Why do you cut off both ends of the ham?” he asked inquisitively. “Because that’s how my mother taught me,” she replied. Not satisfied with the answer, the next time the husband saw his mother-in-law, he asked her why she cut off both ends of a ham before cooking it. She told him that her mother had always done it that way. To get to the bottom of this culinary oddity, the husband called his wife’s elderly grandmother. “Granny, why did you cut off the ends of a ham before cooking it?” he queried. She chuckled and said, “For most of my married life, I didn’t have a pan long enough to hold an entire ham, so I cut off both ends.” Granny had a good reason for dissecting hams, but the next two generations did not. It’s unlikely that too many farmers currently make hay or graze cattle the way their grandparents did. But the ham story should make us think about why we do certain tasks the way we do. As a young extension agent, my peers told me in no uncertain terms that my job was to help farmers adopt research-proven practices. It was a noble and rewarding mission. Over the years, I learned not to lead by telling farmers how to do a certain practice based on research, but to first ask a simple question: “Why are you doing it this way? ” Sometimes, I got a good, defendable answer. I never stopped bringing university research to the farm, but I also never could be critical of an operator who did it differently (for good reason) and was still profitable. These days, as an agronomist turned journalist, that question of “Why are you doing it this way?” still serves me well and leads me to the crux of many farm stories. It’s also a question we need to constantly ask of ourselves regarding the way we make hay and graze livestock. Not every farm operation has the same goals

or markets, and it’s often that end game that drives decisions, or at least it should be. My farm visits over the past few months have once again reminded me of this. One farm owner stated right up front, “Everything we do here is done with the thought that the next generation can be involved and successful.” He and his wife had four grown children who wanted to stay on the farm. So, in addition to the base dairy enterprise, the farm has thoughtfully developed a custom forage harvesting business, a custom manure pumping business, and a sand and gravel sales enterprise. Each of the siblings oversees a component of the operation, and all farm decisions have their future at the forefront. I also recently visited a couple of large hay farms that sell a lot of their small square bale production into the horse market. Selling into the horse market is far different than selling into the dairy market. The latter values a glimpse at the forage quality test results, while such a document is as foreign as a Russian Cossack to the average horse enthusiast. They much prefer to focus on visual hay qualities such as color and leaf retention. Haymakers for both markets should assess nearly every production decision with the end market in mind, and those final decisions may run counter to the other depending on their customer base. Good decisions are the bedrock for success and profitability. They need to be thoughtful and with purpose toward a defined end goal. The next time I stop by and ask, “Why do you do it that way?” — have a good answer. Just don’t cook your hams with the ends cut off. •

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

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QUALITY OR QUANTITY? YES. Pioneer® brand alfalfa offers high-quality forage and high-tonnage yield potential. That includes varieties equipped with HarvXtra® technology for harvest flexibility. Ask your Pioneer sales representative about using our premium alfalfa inoculants to protect your silage. Pioneer.com/alfalfa

HarvXtra® is a registered trademark of Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® alfalfa with Roundup Ready® technology is enabled with Technology from Noble Research Foundation Institute, LLC. Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of the Bayer Group, used under license. Do not export alfalfa seed or crops containing Roundup Ready® technology including hay or hay products, to China pending import approval. In addition, due to the unique cropping practices, do not plant this product in Imperial County, California. Purchase and use of HarvXtra® alfalfa with Roundup Ready® technology is subject to a Seed and Feed Use Agreement. Always read and follow pesticide label directions. Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® technology provides crop safety for over-the-top applications of labeled glyphosate herbicides when applied according to label directions. Glyphosate agricultural herbicides will kill crops that are not tolerant to glyphosate. ACCIDENTAL APPLICATION OF INCOMPATIBLE HERBICIDES TO THIS VARIETY COULD RESULT IN TOTAL CROP LOSS. ™ ® Trademarks of Corteva Agriscience and its affiliated companies. © 2021 Corteva.

With affordable grazing land hard to find, Travis and Marissa Hake purchased an abandoned golf course.

by Amber Friedrichsen


HILE I have stepped onto many pastures before, I have only ever set foot on a golf course once. Yet, there I was, adding another tally to both experiences at the same time as I followed Travis and Marissa Hake through the gate of Black Label Farms near Edon, Ohio. At first glance, I envisioned the activities that once took place on the abandoned course: golfers walking up and down the rolling hills, golf carts cruising pieces of sidewalk that still remain, and a golf ball hitting its peak in the air and then descending into a pond at its owner’s dismay. At second glance, though, I was awakened from my daydream and brought back to reality as I found myself nose-to-nose with some of the most docile cattle I’ve ever encountered. Located in the heart of western

Ohio’s corn and soybean breadbasket, the Hakes struggled to find affordable land to purchase for pasture. That is, until a 100-acre golf course was put up for sale practically in the Hake family farm’s backyard. Now, tee time is all the time for the couple, but they are not practicing their putt or strengthening their swing. Instead, they are working to transform what was once 18 holes of fairways and greens into a home for their grazing herd of British White Park beef cattle.

A links makeover A few years ago, the golf course went up for sale and was sold at an auction. The man who purchased it had intentions of flipping it to sell at a higher price, but unfortunately for him, no such thing happened before he passed away. His estate closed and the course was back on the market. This time, the

All photos: Mike Rankin

TAKING A SHOT AT THE GRAZING GAME Hakes had the highest bid. “It’s tough around here because we are in heavy row-crop country,” Marissa said. “This property came up, and we farm on three sides of it, so it was almost the perfect situation for us when looking for pasture because we don’t have to compete against row-crop land prices.” Although obtaining the patch of land seemed on par — pun intended — the condition it was in was double bogey quality. The land had become overgrown with mature, dead grass during the time it sat idle. Nonetheless, the Hakes played through. “The first thing we did was mow it all and bale the grass to get all the old residue off,” Travis said. “Next, we started researching the species of what we had, what we wanted, and the steps to get there.” What they had was a lot of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. The Hakes

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realized this was less than ideal when developing a diet for their animals. They set out to introduce more forage species into their field. Early this spring, the Hakes frost seeded three species of clover into their pasture to add a legume component and fix nitrogen in the soil. The Hakes plan on frost seeding annual and perennial clovers every year. They will also be interseeding other forages such as timothy, ryegrass, and orchardgrass into the turf a couple of fairways at a time. Years of undermanagement left the course looking unkempt. One advantage of this, though, is that there are many thin spots of grass that allow new seeds to establish quickly. “Our goal was to transition over to more desirable species without completely terminating the grass,” Travis said. “I think the best thing would be to kill the grass and start over, but that wasn’t an option for us. We had cows waiting at the gate, and we had to learn how to utilize it.” And utilize it they did.

Fences to make There are currently about 30 pairs of cows and calves grazing on the course. Despite a limited variety of forages for now, the herd will not have a problem meeting their nutritional needs. The couple decided to extend the perimeter fence beyond the course and around parts of neighboring fields they own. These areas were less desirable for rowcrop production. The total area inside the new fence is approximately 130 acres, and it includes access to some alfalfa and cover crops, which help supplement the golf course’s forage grasses. Before the new fence installation could take place, two property lines around the golf course had old fences that needed to be removed. Once the perimeter was cleared, the Hakes contracted to put in a new six-wire, high-tensile fence anchored by treated wood posts around the entire area. Another six-wire fence was installed to divide the pasture in two. This way, the Hakes can potentially have two separate cow herds on the course. Within these sections, the couple rotates their herd with a single strand of movable polywire. Travis plans on more fencing in the future. He wants to dedicate more adjacent agricultural land to the pasture to allow cattle greater access to cover crops. “The goal is to utilize this piece

British Whites now roam where golf carts once rode.

of property the best we can,” he said. “Maybe we will install another paddock or two and add more permanent fencing around more agricultural fields to rotate cows into cover crops following grain harvest.”

Water break Fences? Check. Improved forages? Check. But what about water? Ponds that once menaced mediocre golfers now serve as water sources for the cattle. The cattle drink from two ponds on either side of the course, one of which is filled via a well with tanks that overflow into it. Travis wants to install more well-fed tanks near other ponds and underground water lines throughout the pasture. This will enable the Hakes to rotate their herd more often and make use of smaller paddocks. “Well-fed tanks that overflow into the ponds allow for the freshest water for cattle by cycling new water into our stocked ponds,” Travis said. “We have a very good well to utilize near the ponds from the course’s old irrigation system.”

Range of responsibilities If farming is a heritable trait, Travis is definitely a carrier. He is a seventh-generation farmer working alongside his father, uncle, and brother. They farm approximately 3,500 acres of row crops, not including custom work they do for a neighbor. The family also runs a backgrounder business of about 1,800 dairy-cross steers, which they raise and sell to a feedlot. Travis also operates a feedlot of his own. He has 200 cattle that are grain-finished, processed and inspected locally, and sold direct-to-consumer. The meat products are being sold in nearby butcher shops as well. Marissa obtained her doctorate of veterinary medicine from Michigan State University, where she and Travis

first met. Her animal health expertise is a valuable asset to the operation. She also currently works as the animal welfare director for fairlife LLC, a national milk processing company. She oversees the welfare programs for all the company’s providing dairies. When Marissa is not on the home farm, she can be found traveling to fairlife suppliers in various states, including Arizona and New Mexico. Although the couple had plenty to keep them busy, they wanted something to do together on the side, which is why they started grazing cattle on a golf course. “It kind of started out as having five cows as a backyard hobby,” Travis said. “Then it grew into an opportunity to buy a bigger herd, and we’ve had good results selling seedstock. It’s been a pretty good business, and it just keeps growing.”

Beautiful bovines A unique pasture calls for unique cattle, and the Hakes’ herd of British White Parks meet that description. Animals of this breed are known to have bright white bodies, which seem to glow against the green hills of the golf course. When a cow or calf lifts its head from grazing, two black ears and a black nose appear to greet any bystanders. “I really like the look of the breed — that’s what initially drew me to them,” Marissa said. “Then we really started looking into it and found they are efficient on grass, are good mamas, and are pretty docile. That is exactly what we wanted.” Docile is an understatement. Many of the cows kindly approach anyone who comes to visit, or at least they don’t run with tails raised for the par four ninth hole. Even though the golf course to pasture transformation is just beginning, the Hakes are excited for their future. Their story goes to show that some long shots end up being a hole-in-one. • AMBER FRIEDRICHSEN The author is the 2021 Hay and Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends Iowa State University where she is majoring in agriculture and life sciences education-communications with a minor in agronomy.

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by Mary Drewnoski and Devin Jakub

Oats and brassicas make a great fall pair


F YOU are looking for fall or winter grazing, planting oats in the late summer can be a great option. Oats and other winter-sensitive small grains will typically yield more in the fall than winter annual grains such as cereal rye. Late summer-planted oats are quite high in quality and a great option for grazing weaned calves in the fall and winter. For those looking to spice things up, adding brassicas to the mix can result in even greater feeding value while potentially lowering seed costs. Over the past six years, several research projects have been conducted at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Neb., in collaboration with the University of Nebraska, to evaluate the opportunity to plant an annual forage after corn silage harvest for fall and winter grazing. Indeed, weather has a huge impact on the amount of forage produced, the length of grazing, and the growing calf performance, but in general, grazing growing calves on oat-based “cover crops” planted after early harvested corn silage has been profitable. For those in the North, emphasis should be placed on “early harvested,” as it can be challenging to get enough growing days in the northern U.S. before frost.

Hold their quality In early Nebraska studies, oats and brassicas (turnips and radishes) planted in mid- to late August after early corn silage harvest were shown to maintain quality from November through January. The energy content of the oats and brassicas remained high into January even though the forage “appeared” brown and wilted. The bottom line is that looks can be deceiving. Calves (about 500 to 600 pounds) grazing from November to January gained between 1.5 to 2 pounds per day, with varied gain based on weather conditions. Years with more precipitation resulted in lower gains, and drier years resulted in more favorable calf performance. The digestibility of the brassicas was especially high and appeared to

be more nutritionally similar to a grain concentrate than a forage. Previous work has shown that energy supplementation on high-quality forages such as wheat pasture can improve gain of growing calves. Therefore, it was thought that the greater digestibility and energy derived from the brassicas may improve calf gain compared to grazing oat forage alone. Additionally, depending on the brassica used, the seed costs could be lower than planting oats alone. After the initial plot work to determine seeding rates for oats and rapeseed to find a mix that would have a similar yield to oats alone, an experiment to evaluate the performance of calves grazing oats or oats plus rapeseed was conducted. Over the three years of grazing research, the initial forage yield was not affected by the inclusion of rapeseed with oats when 100 pounds per acre of oat seed was compared to 50 pounds per acre of oat seed and 3 pounds per acre of rapeseed.

Advantage for brassica Calf gain was greater (1.9 versus 2.1 pounds per day) and the cost of gain was lower (54 cents versus 46 cents per pound) when rapeseed was included. For those who may be thinking, “Wow, those are some low costs,” it is important to note that the cost of gain included seed costs at $20 per acre for oats or $15 per acre for the mix, plus seeding costs at $14 per acre, fertilizer at $6.80 per acre, irrigation at $33 per acre, and fencing at $5 per acre. No yardage, labor, or cost of managing the cattle were accounted for in the above estimates. It should also be noted that rapeseed seems to be less palatable than oats until after frost. Then, likely due to the higher sugar content, the preference of cattle appears to switch, and they preferentially select rapeseed. Regardless, these results look very promising for mixing oats and rapeseed. One other thing that was observed during these trials is that the amount of grazing (head days per acre) achieved

was often much less than would be expected based on the initial forage yield. In these grazing situations, the calves were “set stocked,” meaning that calves were given access to the whole field at the start of grazing and the stocking rate was typically around one calf per acre. Grazing would last from 30 to 100 days and was not correlated with the amount of initial forage. Instead, weather seemed to be a big driver for amount of grazing capture. With wet weather, especially if coupled with above freezing temperatures, came reduced grazing days.

Improved utilization As a follow up to this, a trial was conducted to see if strip grazing an oats-rapeseed mix in the fall and winter would result in better forage utilization. Groups of calves were either set stocked with continuous access to the whole field or given a new strip of forage twice per week. Strip grazing did reduce trampling losses and lengthen the amount of grazing days from 75 in the continuous system to 140 days with strip grazing. Strip grazing also appeared to reduce selectivity and/ or intake, as the calves in the continuous paddocks gained 2.07 pounds per day while the strip calves gained 1.76 pounds per day during the first 75 days. However, due to the extra days of grazing, pounds of gain per acre were greater when strip grazing was used. Thus, depending on goals, strip grazing oats-rapeseed in the winter might make a good thing even better. Planting a brassica-oat mixture and strip grazing are both strategies to consider to provide improved animal performance, lower seed costs, and extend the grazing season. Examine your goals to determine what to plant and how to graze it. • MARY DREWNOSKI AND DEVIN JAKUB Drewnoski (pictured) is a beef systems extension specialist with the University of Nebraska. Jakub is a graduate student pursuing his master’s degree.

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Let LEAF be your guide to alfalfa leaves by David Weakley and Charlie Rodgers


OW often have you harvested a beautiful field of alfalfa or a newly established stand of a high-quality variety of alfalfa, only to find out later that the lab test results were only average? Rather than assuming you received inaccurate lab test results or did not obtain the promised benefits from the high-quality alfalfa variety, perhaps the lower than expected lab test was the result of leaf loss. Leaf loss is one of the major factors negatively impacting harvested alfalfa forage quality. University of Wisconsin research has shown that leaf percentage accounts for 71% of the variation in forage quality. Leaves have a relative forage quality (RFQ) of approximately 550, while stems have an RFQ of only 70 to 80. Therefore, growers must know the percent of leaves in their alfalfa to better manage growing, harvesting, and evaluating their alfalfa. While there are many forage quality measurements we can perform on alfalfa, until now there has been no reliable rapid test to predict the amount of leaves in a sample of alfalfa that is typically dried, ground, and analyzed in a lab. Researchers at Forage Genetics International (FGI) decided to develop such a test.

LEAF development During the summer of 2019, 160 samples of standing alfalfa plants were collected from FGI research plots at West Salem, Wis.; Nampa, Idaho; and Davis, Calif. Across all locations, a total of 43 varieties of alfalfa were harvested similarly using a variety of cutting schedules (28, 33, 35, or 38 days) across a range of cuttings (first through third). Plants were sent to West Salem where they were dried at a temperature less

than 140°F, followed by hand separation and weighing of leaf and stem fractions. After recording the weights, the two fractions were recombined and ground over a 1-millimeter (mm) screen. From there, they were forwarded to the FGI in vitro digestibility lab at Gray Summit, Mo., for Calibrate High Quality (HQ) Forage Analysis testing. This included near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) and “wet” lab analysis for dry matter (DM), ash, crude protein, neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and 28-hour in vitro NDF digestibility (NDFd28). These values were then compared with the percent leaf fraction in each sample in a stepwise regression analysis approach to develop an equation to predict percent leaves from the best-fit component models. During the following year (2020), 40 new whole plant samples were collected from the Davis and West Salem research locations using similar methods to the previous year. Those samples were run through the same protocol to be used to validate the accuracy of the percent leaf prediction equation developed in 2019.

A robust equation The findings from the 2020 validation set of 40 samples showed that the standard error of the prediction was extremely low (2.86 percentage units of leaves) across a wide range of 35% to 64% leaves in the samples. This indicated that the leaf prediction equation can be “off” by an average of only 2.86 percentage units of leaves on a given sample. These 40 samples were added to the original 160 samples and a new prediction equation, LEAF (Leaves Enhance Alfalfa Forage), was developed that predicts percent leaves in alfalfa from NDF, protein, and NDFD28 measured

in the sample. This equation explained 84% of the variation in leaf percentage in these samples (see Figure 1). The samples in the calibration dataset represented a wide range in quality, spanning 21% to 48% NDF, 16% to 31% crude protein, and 37% to 60% NDFD28. The measured leaf percentage ranged from 35% to 70%, with an average of 52% (standard deviation [SD] of 8.6%).

What is typical? The LEAF equation was used to predict the leaf percentage of 360 samples of alfalfa that were collected during 2019 from across the U.S. and analyzed by FGI. The samples represented a wide range in quality, from 16% to 67% NDF, 8% to 30% crude protein, and 34% to 62% NDFD28. The predicted leaf percentage ranged from 10% to 77%, with an average of 48% (SD of 12.6%; Figure 2). Across both sets of data, the average leaf percentage in alfalfa was approximately 50%, with a SD close to 10%. Therefore, two-thirds of the sample population had a leaf percentage between 40% and 60%, which could be considered a “typical” range. With this in mind, we went a step further and compared the relationship between RFQ and LEAF percent in the 360 samples from 2019. As can be seen in Figure 3, leaves influenced RFQ in a positive manner with a strong relationship. The equation from this relationship was then used to predict the RFQ at various levels of LEAF percent in alfalfa around the average of 50%, which was obtained from the two datasets (Figure 3). The graph shows the increasing return in RFQ value that can be gained from improving retention of leaves during growing and harvesting of alfalfa. The other discovery is that over the range between 40% and 60% leaves, each 1 percentage unit improvement in leaves resulted in a 4.6-unit bump in RFQ. What this indicates is that it takes only a little more than 2% additional DAVID WEAKLEY AND CHARLIE RODGERS Weakley (pictured) is the director of dairy forage nutrition for Forage Genetics International (FGI) in West Salem, Wis. Rodgers is a senior alfalfa breeder with FGI.

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Figure 1. Relationship between predicted and measured percent leaves 75 70

R2 = 0.84

65 Measured

leaves to raise the RFQ of a bale of alfalfa by 10 units. This emphasizes the importance that leaves play in the quality of alfalfa forage and why it is worth spending the extra effort to not lose leaves from the field to the mouth of a ruminant animal. The following is just a brief listing of factors affecting leaf loss in alfalfa: • Fungal and other alfalfa diseases • Mower-conditioner type and settings • Rake type, excessive raking, or raking when the alfalfa is less than 40% moisture • Baler type and settings • Grinding or excessive mixing of hay before feeding

60 55 50 45 40 35 30












Using LEAF Figure 2. Approximate average leaf percent in alfalfa 80 Average: 48% Std. Dev. 12.6

Number of samples


68 61

60 50 40




10 1








(3 ,8 ) (8 ,13 ) (13 ,18 (18 ) ,2 3) (2 3, 28 (2 ) 8, 33 (3 ) 3, 38 (3 ) 8, 43 (4 ) 3, 48 (4 ) 8, 53 (5 ) 3, 58 (5 ) 8, 63 (6 ) 3, 68 (6 ) 8, 73 (7 ) 3, 78 )




30 20

Range in percent leaves

Figure 3. Influence of percent leaves on RFQ


Use the LEAF percent value to identify and measure a major source of quality variation in alfalfa. This will result in a more objective conversation when discussing alfalfa sample quality test results. • If the protein and NDF digestibility are lower than expected, and the NDF is higher than expected, check for leaf loss as the cause. • If the LEAF percentage is less than 45%, evaluate areas for alfalfa management improvement. • Consider options such as fungicide application, using more disease or pest-resistant alfalfa varieties, and don’t forget the many harvest management improvements that can be put into action. The LEAF test has not been validated with alfalfa-grass mixed forages and is currently intended only for pure stands of alfalfa. Furthermore, the LEAF test has only been validated against nutrient inputs from the Calibrate High Quality Forage Analysis Test. Lab variation in these nutrient input measurements from other forage tests could likely affect the accuracy of the percent leaf predictions if they were used as replacement values in the LEAF test. Currently, the LEAF test is available as part of the Calibrate High Quality Forage Analysis results from Winfield United’s SureTech Laboratories. However, the goal is to make the LEAF test available to all labs providing the Calibrate High Quality Forage Analysis test, now that a year-long field evaluation of the LEAF test has been completed. For more information, contact BDHodne@foragegenetics.com. •

500 450 400 350 300 250 200 150 100 50 0

% leaves


40 45 50 55 60

132 150 172 196 224

R2 = 0.8788 0.0









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Extreme processing boosts feed value 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. to determine if mechanical processing could enhance alfalfa’s feed value, Shinners said. It will likely take time and additional development work before it reaches commercialization, he added. Many questions, including how and when mechanical processing should be done, still need answers. The agricultural engineer envisions processing could be incorporated on the forage harvester during harvest or as the crop is removed from storage and prior to mixing in the TMR. “We need to find the best mechanical

Shows promise The feeding trial showed the mechanical processing (MP) diet was more efficient than the conventional (CON) diet. Cows fed the MP diet consumed less feed than those on the CON diet, with a dry matter intake (DMI) of 60 (MP) compared to 62 (CON) pounds per day. Milk yield was nearly the same (103 [MP] compared to 102 [CON] pounds per day), but milkfat percentage was greater for cows on the MP diet as compared to those on the CON diet (3.94% compared to 3.81% fat). Fat-corrected

Kevin Shinners


HE first research trial using “extreme” mechanical processing on wilted alfalfa after chopping is showing great promise in improving alfalfa fiber digestion – and, ultimately, could help dairy farmers save on feed costs. “Nutritionists have told us that fiber digestion is the next frontier in dairy nutrition. If that’s the case, we think we might have something that might help; we can mechanically manipulate alfalfa and improve its fiber digestion,” said Kevin Shinners, University of Wisconsin (UW) agriculKEVIN SHINNERS tural engineer. Funding: $78,068 Shinners and his colleagues received Alfalfa Checkoff funding to test whether extreme mechanical processing could break down alfalfa plant cells and enhance plant surface area so cows could more readily digest fiber. Two identical diets consisting of 30% alfalfa haylage, 30% corn silage, and 40% concentrates were fed to 36 lactating dairy cows during a six-week period. The only difference between diets? One was conventionally chopped at a 10 millimeter (mm) theoretical-length-of-cut (TLOC), and the other was conventionally chopped at a 22 mm TLOC, then mechanically processed. The mechanical processing was done on a modified screenless hammermill that provided processing by impact and shredding. Prior research has shown the combination of impact processing and shredding provided the desired physical results to the alfalfa. The crop was processed through the altered equipment to obtain a processing level that previous research had shown would likely boost fiber digestion. This initial research’s main goal was

approach to achieve the desired processing level while requiring the least amount of energy,” Shinners said. “This process is going to take significant energy; we can’t break that stem down and fiberize it without putting substantial energy to it. But our initial economic analysis indicates that the benefit we get will more than pay for the extra fuel and power that we believe this is going to take. Hopefully, this will make alfalfa a more competitive feed.”

MECHANICALLY PROCESSED haylage, right, is shredded and stems are fiberized, said Kevin Shinners. Conventionally chopped material is at left.

PROJECT RESULTS 1. An impact-shredding processor was developed that produced a processing level index of 74% compared to only 38% for the control chopped material. 2. More than 35 tons of wilted alfalfa were processed and successfully conserved for the lactation feeding trial. 3. Dairy cows fed a diet of processed alfalfa produced 3.1 pounds per day greater fatcorrected milk while consuming less dry matter, improving feed efficiency. 4. Income over feed costs was greater for the extreme mechanical processing diet even though the cost to harvest alfalfa haylage was 1.25 to 1.40 times greater than that for conventionally harvested material.

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milk (FCM) was also greater for cows fed the MP crop (102 compared to 99 pounds per day), making feed conversion efficiency (FCM/DMI) greater for MP-diet cows than for CON-diet cows (1.69 compared to 1.60). Future research, said Shinners, may include looking at different crop maturities. “We think we could get a better response if we go with a crop that’s a little more mature than the crop harvested

for the feeding trial. What would this process look like when we harvest at a greater maturity or at different moisture contents? Or, what if we set this material not at 30% of the cow’s ration, but at 40% or more?” he asked rhetorically. “The NAFA funding was excellent seed money and gives us the opportunity to try to sell the USDA on our research. Hopefully, the USDA will invest funding and move this forward,” he said.

Shinners credits David Pintens, an agricultural engineering graduate student, for his outstanding work on the project, despite limitations caused by the pandemic. Others involved in the research included UW agricultural engineers Matthew Digman and Joshua Friede, as well as Kenneth Kalscheur, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center animal scientist. To view the project final report, visit alfalfa.org. •



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Figure 1. Start of net wrap ball being removed from a cow through the rumen cannula. Approximately 25% of the ball is outside the animal.

study indicated a significant amount of net wrap recovered in the digestive tract of cows postharvest. A project was later conducted at South Dakota State University Cottonwood Field Station to quantify how rapidly net wrap builds up and how it behaves in the rumen. In order to quantify net wrap buildup, six ruminally cannulated Angus cows were fed a diet of ground hay without net-wrap removal. To determine whether existing net wrap in the rumen would “catch” other pieces of net wrap as they were ingested, a small piece of net wrap (4.7 inches by 4.7 inches) was placed in the rumen of three of the cows on Day 1, while the other three cows did not have any net wrap at the start of the study.

Fed for 140 days

Net wrap accumulates in cows fed ground hay by Adele Harty


LASTIC net wrap is a common binding material for large round hay bales, but it can present health challenges for cattle due to buildup in the rumen. Net wrapped bales are commonly used for winter feed sources in chopped or ground feed, but the net wrap is rarely removed prior to grinding, resulting in the hay containing pieces of plastic that are then fed to livestock. Cattle producers have observed cows with diarrhea that lose weight over a

relatively short period of time exhibiting symptoms similar to Johne’s or hardware disease. No veterinary treatments have been effective, and when animals were posted following death, a wad of net wrap and digesta was removed from the rumen. This buildup of plastic net wrap has been termed “plastic,” “net wrap,” or “software” disease. Prompted by the evaluation of research findings at North Dakota State University regarding the digestibility of multiple hay binding materials, results from a Montana

To maintain weight and body condition, the cows were individually fed grass hay that contained 88% dry matter, 12.5% crude protein, and 60% total digestible nutrients over the 140-day feeding period, which represents a typical winter feeding duration in South Dakota. The bales had 1.5 wraps of Pritchett Net Wrap Green per bale, and hay was ground through a 5-inch screen. To quantify the approximate amount of net wrap fed to the cows, the hay binding was removed from 18 bales from the same lot of hay, and those bales were not ground. All loose hay was removed from the net wrap, and the clean net wrap was weighed to determine the approximate amount of net wrap delivered to each cow throughout the feeding period. The total amount of net wrap offered during the period was estimated at 1.78 pounds per head. Due to the better quality of the hay and the body condition score (BCS) of the cows at the beginning of the study, cows were limit fed at 74% of predicted intake to maintain weight and BCS. Cows had a BCS greater than 6 at

ADELE HARTY The author is a cow/calf field specialist with South Dakota State University Extension.

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effect on rumen capacity and function over the long term.

Unknown fate

Figure 2. Net wrap after removal from the rumen. Net wrap and feed entangled was approximately 3 feet in length when laid out flat.

Figure 3. Net wrap ball with placental tissue wound up in it that was found in a cow that had recently calved.

the start of the study. Adjustments to intake were made as needed to maintain weight and BCS on an individual animal basis. Four of the cannulated cows were pregnant and calved in March, prior to the end of the 140-day feeding period. Intake was adjusted for the higher nutrient requirements during lactation. On Days 139 and 140, three cows per day were weighed, scored for body condition, and their rumens were evacuated to remove the accumulated net wrap. All net wrap was removed, and the clean digesta was placed back into the rumen of each cow. Photos were taken of the balls of net wrap that were removed from the cows to document the characteristics of the mass of net wrap and digesta (Figures 1, 2, and 3). Net wrap removed from each cow was dried and weighed to quantify the amount of net wrap in the rumen. To determine the rumen volume displaced by the net wrap, the net wrap collected from each cow was placed in a plastic bag and then submerged in a tub of water to determine the volume of water displaced by the net wrap.

wrap free-floating in the rumen contents. Once it was sorted and balled up, the accumulated net wrap was about the size of a softball. The material removed from the rumen was not pure net wrap, but instead was a mix of net wrap tangled with feed. Additionally, two samples from the recently calved cows also had placental tissue that had been consumed by the cow tangled in them (Figure 3). The cows with the additional piece of net wrap placed in the rumen at the beginning of the trial did not have any additional buildup of net wrap compared to those cows that did not have the additional net wrap. The weight of the net wrap was 0.8 to 1.1 pounds. There was no difference in volume displacement with the net wrap displacing 1 to 1.3 gallons of fluid. Based on the potential net wrap offered compared to the net wrap removed during rumen evacuations, about half (53%) of the potential net wrap offered was recovered. The question remains why a larger portion was not recovered, but these results were similar to the study from Montana, where 47% of the net wrap was recovered throughout the digestive tract. There are multiple possible explanations for where this net wrap disappearance could have occurred, but regardless, the amount of net wrap in the rumen could have a significant

Softball-sized In all cows, most of the net wrap was tangled together in one ball of material (Figures 1 and 2); however, there were several individual loose pieces of net

This study indicates a significant amount of net wrap accumulated in the rumen of all cows during a single, 140-day feeding period. The fate beyond this single feeding period of the net wrap that accumulated in the rumen is unknown. However, because it is a plastic material that is known to degrade at an extremely slow rate, it is possible that at least a portion of it will remain in the rumen throughout the cow’s life. Also unknown is whether similar amounts of net wrap will be added to the accumulation during subsequent feeding periods throughout the life of a cow. Potentially, several pounds of net wrap may accumulate over years in an older cow, with several gallons of rumen capacity displaced by net wrap. The cumulative effect on digestive capacity and health of cows is unknown beyond cases of mortality. During this small study, consistent accumulation of net wrap was documented in all six cows. Additionally, cases of cows dying from complications associated with the buildup of net wrap or other plastic materials in the rumen are being documented more frequently. This short-term project provided a snapshot of the potential long-term implications of not removing net wrap from bales prior to grinding. Many additional questions remain to be answered regarding long-term impact on cow performance and longevity. How much net wrap in the rumen will stop or slow the flow of digesta? Will the digesta that is wound up in the wad of net wrap ever break down or will it always continue to build? What happens to the placental tissue that is wound up in the net wrap wad? Will the pieces of net wrap that were free floating in the rumen contents end up entangled in the rest of the net wrap and enhance the size of the ball? What is the impact of developing replacement heifers on ground hay without net wrap removal prior to grinding? Will the net wrap stay with the cattle for the entirety of their life, even if they are never allowed access to net wrap in future years? Further research is needed to fully understand the long-term implications of net wrap in cattle diets. • August/September 2021 | hayandforage.com | 15

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Mike Rankin

pocket and use to check corn plants? Does this sound like science fiction? The miniaturization of NIRS technology is beginning to enable such a scenario. With funding from the New York Farm Viability Institute, we set out to investigate one such device pictured in Photo 2. The SCiO device was developed by Consumer Physics (Tel-Aviv, Israel) and utilizes a patented technology to glean a spectrum from 740 to 1,070 nanometers (nm). These instruments work on the principle of illuminating the sample and measuring light absorbance. But how do you measure the light that’s not there? We measure the light that’s not absorbed (reflected) and assume that the missing light was absorbed. The light absorbed by the sample is related to several physical characteristics and chemi-

Corn silage harvest timing in your pocket by Matthew Digman, Jerry Cherney, and Debbie Cherney


ESEARCH advocates for harvesting corn at a defined maturity and moisture content for optimal storage, utilization, and milk per acre. As corn plants mature, they increase in dry matter, and starch accumulates, displacing sugar, fiber, and ash. A study at the University of Illinois observed that corn silage harvested at 30% dry matter (DM) resulted in 7% to 25% less milk per acre when compared with silage harvested at an optimum DM content of about 35%. Determining when to harvest can be time-consuming and expensive. Likewise, relying on visual observations can be deceiving. Stay-green hybrids and field variability can also limit the effecMATTHEW DIGMAN Digman (pictured) is an agricultural engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jerry Cherney and Debbie Cherney are the extension forage agronomist and an animal science professor, respectively, at Cornell University.

tiveness of sampling (see Photo 1). As a result, most producers rely on collecting representative samples to determine whole-plant moisture content. Sampling plants generally involves a trip to the field, collecting and chopping whole plants, and then drying in a microwave, Koster tester, air fryer, food dehydrator, or forced-air oven. This limits how many samples can be managed and the time between collecting data. While hand-held and on-harvester near-infrared reflectance spectrometers (NIRS) are effective, they haven’t been widely adopted and are expensive. There are positive independent research data backing NIRS offerings from multiple vendors (see our previous article, “In-hand forage quality,” in the April/May 2018 issue of Hay & Forage Grower). Additionally, moisture varies significantly, and the NIRS technique is strongly influenced by sample moisture content. In fact, samples are routinely dried to use NIRS to predict other chemical components such as protein, fiber, and starch.

NIRS goes mini But what if there was a simple, lowcost device that you could put in your

Photo 1. On the same day and farm, the corn on the left measured in at 67% moisture content, and the corn on the right was at 63% moisture, only 4 percentage points lower.

Photo 2. Attachment to SCiO NIRS instrument to maintain a precise distance between the scan window and corn ear surface and exclude external light. The goal was to relate ear moisture to whole-plant moisture.

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70 65 60 55 50 45 40 35

Figure 2. Relationship between laboratory ear moisture (determined by oven DM procedure) and SCiO ear moisture using a Consumer Physics calibration. 90

Drier samples


Generally wetter samples








Wavelength (nm) cal species, but here we are counting on that some is due to the water content. The numbers 740 to 1,070 are the wavelengths of light the instrument is sensitive to. In the visible spectrum, violet light is about 400 nm, and red is about 700 nm. Note that the device operates outside of the red, in the infrared. To evaluate the SCiO device and the accompanying calibration, we scanned over 700 ears of corn throughout New York state. We collected the entire plant to determine whole-plant moisture by drying in a forced-air oven.

Still not there So, did it work? Look at the data collected with the SCiO, which is presented in Figure 1. Note the wavelength range at the bottom of the chart. Also, note there is a depression around 970 nm. This is a known absorbance peak for water. It looks like there is promise for this approach. On the downside, we had less success when we compared the oven-dried moisture content to that predicted by the SCiO. Figure 2 depicts each observation as the actual moisture content on the x-axis and predicted on the y-axis. Perfect agreement would be a 1-to-1 ratio, which is represented as a dashed black line. The orange bands represent the 95% prediction band, where we would expect the results to lie 95% of the time with repeated observations. This band was quite large (+/- 6.85% moisture), and in our opinion, the SCiO would have little value in making harvest decisions. Notably, this is just the error associated with predicting the moisture of the ear; additional error will likely result from relating these data to whole-plant moisture. Is the dream of the pocket-sized spectrometer just that . . . a dream? Our team doesn’t think so. If you recall, the light spectra in Figure 1 showed only one water peak. There are alternative spectrometers, with a much larger wavelength range that venture further into the near-infrared region. These instruments can provide richer information about the chemical properties of the ear. We have one season of such data under our belt, and the results look promising. In the meantime, I would suggest looking at one of the hand-held NIRS devices described in our previous article or investing in a Koster tester. While you will still need to collect and chop the whole plant, you will have a reliable indication of when to harvest. •

Predicted ear moisture

Reflectance (%)

Figure 1. Mean and plus/minus 1 standard deviation of spectra collected from ears using the SCiO device and scanning accessory.

70 60 50 40 30 30


50 60 70 Actual ear moisture



Blue regression line dashed black 1:1 relationship and shaded 95% confidence bands based on single observations.

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by John Goeser

Corn silage two-minute drill


ICTURE yourself with the playbook in your hands as several key decisions loom while coaching your team in the final minutes of the game. Your team is relying on you to put them in the right position to score and succeed. Each year, corn harvest for silage is very similar. There are numerous teammates that need to be organized and coordinated for a successful season. The conditions may dictate different decisions made this year relative to last. Hence, you need to be ready to make the call as circumstances change. Numerous real-time measurements can play into your decision-making process, and it may help to have them organized like a playbook in front of you. Then, after the final ton of chopped corn is packed into the silo, we can review the season’s successes based on different metrics. This annual growing and harvest season review can be thought of like watching a game tape to find opportunities for the next competition.

Make the right call Many different growing conditions and agronomic practices affect how and when corn should be harvested for silage. Often, I overhear a producer comment, “Oh, we’ll just take that corn for silage” in reference to harvesting poor-looking corn. Grain or silage corn is far too valuable to ignore opportunities in fertility, crop protection, or harvest management as the season winds down. During the growing season, working with an experienced agronomist can help determine which fertility and crop protection applications are warranted. These decisions affect the growing crop and contribute to the season’s success, just like making the right adjustment in the middle of a game. As harvest comes into focus, crop health and contamination, grain maturity, whole-plant moisture, chop length, and kernel processing need to be monitored with the same intensity as the weather forecast. Beyond nutritive measures, some producers are checking yeast, mold, and mycotoxin levels in green-chopped corn. Sometimes, allied industry representa-

tives take these samples to help manage the harvest. If your farm makes these measures, anticipate high yeast levels and interpret the results with caution. This outcome is to be expected because wild yeasts are relatively abundant in nature with temperate growing conditions. The concern level here is relatively low, recognizing that a successful fermentation will greatly reduce the yeast load. Mold and mycotoxin measures can be more variable. Mold is less concerning than mycotoxin load, as the latter causes harm to animals. Most of the common mycotoxins we measure are derived from the field. Mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol (DON) or T-2 toxin are likely to subsist through the ensiling process. Historic research shows that mycotoxin concentration is relatively stable in fermented forages; however, recent research from the University of Wisconsin suggests that DON levels can actually rise in well-fermented silos.

Beyond our control After recognizing mycotoxin contamination, many producers have wondered what they should have done differently. The answer in most cases is nothing. Regional mycotoxin contamination is often beyond our control and due to environmental conditions during the season. If your team measures substantial mycotoxin contamination with freshly chopped corn, make every effort to ferment the crop quickly and efficiently. Consider a research-backed two-stage inoculant or preservative that promotes stability later when the crop is opened up to feed out. In addition to monitoring contamination, ensure whole-plant moisture and kernel maturity are evaluated. Strive for 65% moisture and half-milk layer kernel maturity with most storage systems. In some situations, the moisture and kernel maturity do not fully align. Next, consult with your nutritionist regarding the desired kernel processing and particle size requirements. In most cases, complete kernel destruction and a freshly chopped corn kernel processing score of 65 or greater are desirable. Kernel processing score will likely rise five or more points in storage as the

silage ferments and starch in the grain softens and breaks down.

Review the game tape After the corn is in the silo or under plastic and fermented, it’s important to also review the season’s successes and pain points. Here is where feed-out mold and yeast measures can be helpful to pick up silage stability opportunities that you won’t be able to see with your naked eye. You may also opt to check your silage density. Newer recommendations focus on as-fed density instead of dry matter density. As-fed density accounts for moisture, which is important. Other crop review points include fermentation measures such as pH, lactic and acetic acid, and alcohols such as ethanol. These help determine how effectively your crop was conserved. In most cases, we expect to measure a pH of less than 4, lactic acid above 3%, and a lactic-to-acetic acid ratio of at least 3:1 for most bacterial inoculants. For reference, roughly 70% of Rock River Laboratory database corn silage samples met the first two thresholds; however, only 30% met the lactic-to-acetic acid ratio threshold over the past five years. If your farm used a research-backed two-stage bacterial inoculant with Lactobacillus buchneri, then the acetic acid content will be intentionally elevated to promote aerobic stability. In this case, the ratio to lactic acid holds less value. With an average dairy diet in the U.S., a 500-cow dairy will have roughly $250,000 invested in corn silage from the soil to the silo. Time and effort spent preparing your game plan for harvest and reviewing the tape after the silage season is over will uncover opportunities for next year. • 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.

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by Jim Gerrish



OMETIMES I get confused when people talk to me about their grazing practices. Within grazing science, there are certain terms used to describe very specific concepts or conditions. Some people use words rather carelessly in my view, while I take them more seriously. I think my particularity about words is because I spent so many years in research, teaching, and editing papers. Words mean specific things to me. Here is an example. After a pasture has been grazed, the green living material left behind is called residual. Specifically, it is the “postgrazing residual.” Those green, living leaves and stems are the photosynthetic factory that drives the regrowth in the pasture. Rate of recovery is tied directly to the level of residual. More leaves left after grazing means the plant is less dependent on stored carbohydrates for regrowth and the pasture recovers more quickly. Residue is dead plant material on the soil surface. Residue is synonymous with litter or duff. In rangelands, we more often say “litter,” while in classic pasture science residue is more commonly used. Residue on the soil surface is very important to a functioning water cycle. Residue also moderates soil temperature, which is beneficial to many microbial processes in the soil. Someone calls me up on the telephone with a grazing question and they say, “I’m leaving a lot of residue behind.” How am I supposed to interpret that? Does it mean they are trampling a lot of material to death and leaving it on the

Mike Rankin

surface, or do they really mean they left 6 inches of standing leaf after grazing? You can see that is two very different outcomes, and we would expect to see very different recovery response to those two scenarios.

Location dictates strategy In productive environments, including high natural rainfall or irrigated pastures, leaving appropriate residual is key to maintaining high pasture growth rate and production levels. Leaving taller postgrazing residuals is also a way to enhance daily forage intake by grazing livestock. Managing residual level is a key piece of the above-ground aspects of grazing management. In rangeland environments, we put a lot more focus on increasing the residue or litter layer on the soil surface. Plant available water in the soil is usually the first limiting factor to rangeland productivity. Poor water cycle function is the weak link on most rangelands around the world. The first step to creating a more functional water cycle is enhancing surface residue. Surface residue, or litter, slows overland flow of water, creates a sponge effect to hold water in place, insulates the soil to reduce evaporation, and ultimately contributes to improved soil organic matter levels. How do we create more surface residue? One of the main avenues is by leaving more residual. If 80% of the above-ground vegetation is removed with grazing, there is little opportunity to create residue. If we only remove

20% of the above ground vegetation, there is much greater opportunity to create residue. Since my undergraduate college days, I have heard the grazing adage of “Take half, leave half.” For a long time, I thought that was a very appropriate grazing management guideline. It is simple and seemingly straightforward. Or is it? A lot of people interpret the “half” to be based on height. That is, if the pasture is 12 inches tall, we graze off 6 inches and leave 6 inches. As it turns out, the “half” is based on biomass, not height. In a typical mixed cool-season grass-legume mixture, half of the biomass is in the upper 60% to 65% of the height, and the residual half is in the lower 35% to 40%. When we were in the productive, high-rainfall environment of Missouri, I tried to be a “Take half, leave half” grazier. Harvesting half of the biomass on each grazing cycle with the livestock seemed perfectly reasonable. We could run a half-dozen grazing cycles a year, and each time we tried to remove half of the standing biomass. By doing so, we still added residue to the soil surface. In fact, range scientists who were saying “Take half, leave half” actually meant that the total removal of biomass by livestock, wildlife, insects, wind damage, and so forth should not exceed 50%. Often, they do grazing budgets only allowing 25% for livestock grazing. Suddenly, the adage takes on a new meaning. Over the 17 years that I have now lived and worked in the semi-arid West rangeland, I have come to have a very different view of appropriate use of rangelands using management-intensive grazing (MiG). The lower the total range dry matter yield, the lower the allowable utilization should be. In other words, the lower the standing biomass, the greater the percentage we must leave as post-grazing residual. Leaving more residual is the only way we can create more residue. • 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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Bales Hay in Buckeye, Ariz., is one of the first farms in the U.S. to adopt steaming technology for small bales.

All photos: Mike Rankin

by Mike Rankin

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All photos: Mike Rankin


NE-pass hay steamer technology is nothing new to Western haymakers, at least those who make and market large square bales. But what about hay operations that fight the same arid conditions and make the 90- to 100-pound three-tie bales or lighter two-tie bales? Their options have been limited . . . until now. Bales Hay is a family-run operation near Buckeye, Ariz., just southwest of the Phoenix metro. Steve Bales, his son, Trevor, and cousin Brian Turner form a trio that farms over 2,000 acres of owned and leased land, consisting mostly of flood-irrigated alfalfa. They sell much of their hay direct-to-consumer or to retail outlets. Horse owners make up a large part of their clientele. “We need our hay to be nutritious, but it’s also essential that it be visually appealing,” Trevor noted. “Our hay has to retain leaves and look good or our customers won’t buy it, regardless of how it tests.” In the past few years, Trevor’s reputation as a haymaker has spread beyond the Arizona desert. In fact, he’s become somewhat of a social media sensation with postings on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. It’s through these channels that Trevor brings the hayfield to living rooms throughout the world. It’s also how Bales Hay Sales became one of the first operations in the U.S. to test drive the Staheli West DewPoint 331 hay steamer for small square bales. Staheli West, based in Cedar City, Utah, had been manufacturing its larger DewPoint 6210 machine for over 10 years but was in the later development stages of testing a smaller, less expensive version for small square balers. “On social media, I’ve noticed how everyone just highlights their best products and successes,” Trevor said. “Last year, I decided to point out that we’re no different than everybody else, and there are times that we have to bale when the hay is too dry, and we lose too many leaves. I demonstrated what I was talking about and mentioned that it sure would be nice if Staheli West would send a steamer our way to use. Then, two or three days later, I got a phone call from the company, and they wanted to send us a steamer to demo.”

Testing the water The company sent down a kit for a baler, and arrangements were made

On the plus side was a wider window for baling in the arid desert environment. During the extreme heat of mid-summer, they still wouldn’t be able to bale all day, but they could bale during the otherwise dewless nights and into mid-morning. Running two steamers would also mean a reduction in labor. “Finding good labor is becoming more difficult, and with the steamers, we only need two baler drivers instead of four or five,” Trevor noted. It took several months for Brian to make a final decision. Weighing heavily into the decision was the fact that the farm had four motorized balers that were near the end of their useful life and would soon have to be replaced, steamers or not. Also, two of their current baler tractors needed to be upgraded.

for the use of a larger tractor because none of Bales’ had enough horsepower (HP) to pull and operate the steamer and baler train. The DewPoint 331 remained on the farm for about a week, then came the difficult task of decision-making. “Of course, I thought it was cool, but at that point, I really put it on our field manager, Brian, to crunch the numbers and make any kind of final decision,” Trevor explained. “I told him it was up to him 100%. I would have been happy if we decided to run four power takeoff (PTO) balers or two steamers.” This proved to be a tough decision on several levels. First, only one steamer wouldn’t work. It had to be two or none. “Our baling window isn’t wide enough for one steamer, and if that steamer breaks down, then you still have to keep three or four balers as backup,” Trevor said.

Steam is transferred to the baler through hoses. It’s then applied to the windrow as it enters the baler via three manifolds (see arrows). The amount of steam coming through each manifold is controlled by the operator.

In addition, the Bales crew would also need to purchase two larger tractors to pull the steamer and the baler. The minimum power needed on their flat, desert ground was 125 HP. Two new steamers, tractors, and balers would not be the end of the expenditures. Trevor noted that a reverse osmosis system for water used in the steamer was also needed to ensure that clean water be used to create steam. This meant an additional $20,000 investment.

The question boiled down to if the farm would run four new PTO-driven balers or two new balers with steamers. “It would have been a harder decision to make if some of our current equipment didn’t need to be replaced,” Trevor asserted. Ultimately, Brian recommended the operation bale with two steamers. “There are a lot of farms making continued on following page >>>

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big square bales that have been using steamers with good success, so that made the decision a little easier,” Trevor said. “It wasn’t like we were going to be the first. The only difference is that we make small square bales.” Trevor, Brian, and two employees attended a school this past year in Utah for those who had purchased a steamer. “They did a really good job of showing you how to troubleshoot the machine,” Trevor said. “They also thoroughly go over the owner’s manual with you.”

Up and running The two DewPoint 331s arrived on the farm in early May. The Bales ultimately settled on two, 140 HP Fendt tractors to power the baling train. They wanted a little more horsepower than the minimum recommended for their conditions. The farm uses a 5,000-gallon storage tank for water. For every 3 gallons of salty, desert water that goes through the water system, only 1 gallon of clean water is generated. The other 2 gallons of salty water are used for dust control on the farmstead. The steamers, loaded with over 600 gallons of water, are heavy, weighing about 8 tons. For that reason, the units have their own set of trailer brakes. Comprised with what is essentially a low-pressure boiler (about 15 pounds per square inch), the DewPoints are equipped with numerous safety features. The steamers will operate from three to five hours before needing to be refilled with water. Operational time depends on the amount of steam being released through the manifolds on the baler. Steam is applied to the hay windrow as it is picked up by the baler. The three separate manifolds are located below the pickup, above the pickup, and in the bale feed and packing chamber. The operator has full control as to the amount and percent of steam being released among the manifolds. For example, if the top of the windrow is still wet from dew but the bottom is dry, the top manifold can be shut off or reduced, and steam is only applied to the drier bottom. The interactive touchscreen in the tractor cab makes the adjustments relatively simple and fast. Out of the baler, the steamed bales are still hot. In fact, it’s recommended that they not be accumulated and stacked for 30 minutes. Brian explained that there are some differences between the larger Dew-

“One thing about the steamer is that it makes an awesome flake,” Trevor Bales said. Trevor (left) and Brian Turner routinely inspect bales once they cool in the field.

Point 6210 and its younger, smaller brother. The big square steamers have a diesel generator/burner combination on board that powers all the components and heats the water. The small one also uses diesel but derives all its power from the tractor’s electrical and hydraulic systems. “There’s really very little maintenance with these,” Brian said. “There’s not a lot of moving parts.” “Nothing can beat natural dew, but those nights and mornings when it’s windy and there’s no dew, that’s when the payback comes,” said Trevor of their experience this summer. When there is dew, or if baling bermudagrass, the Bales still pull the steamers but just don’t generate any steam. “One thing about the steamer is that it makes an awesome flake,” Trevor noted. “When you cut the strings, those nice, uniform flakes just fall apart from each other but stay intact. Surprisingly, I get a lot of complaints about bales that don’t maintain a flake when they’re cut open. I think our customers will really notice a difference with the steamed bales,” he added.

Deep steamer roots The current version of the DewPoint 331 has been in development for about four years. “Ironically, we originally started with a smaller version in the 1990s when Dave Staheli first invented the

steamer,” explained Logan Staheli, who serves as the director of marketing for Staheli West. “When we decided to bring the units to market in 2009 and 2010, the big baler had become popular, and that is was what we were using on our farm. So, we came out with the big bale steamer.” Staheli West has been testing the DewPoint 331 for the past three years in Utah. In 2020, they released six units for beta testing. This year, the small steamer is in limited production status. By the end of the year, the company expects to have 40 operating units on 20 different farms. Next year, the unit will reach the full production stage. “There have been some minor issues with the small steamers since releasing them this year, but we are working really hard to get all the issues resolved so that we are ready to move into full production,” Staheli said. “We are confident that we have some pretty good solutions and updates that are going to fix the quirky bugs some of our customers are seeing. Luckily, we haven’t had any major issues that have shut our customers down for any extended period. Our customers really like them so far.” Included in that group is Bales Hay. “We’ve been happy so far; it does what it’s advertised to do — save leaves,” affirmed Brian when asked for his firstyear assessment. •

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by Gonzalo Ferreira

Small grain silage under a broad lens

Heat drove maturity As expected, it took fewer days to reach harvest time in the hottest environment and more days in the coolest environment, and this was the case for all three species. Even though the results seem obvious, it is worth highlighting that fitting double-crops in the rotation will be more challenging in cooler areas and, therefore, some additional attention is needed for species selection and harvest timing. If the priority is to release the field early for a subsequent summer crop, then rye or barley could be the best options when harvesting at the boot stage. However, such a decision might result in lower dry matter yields (see graph). When a balance between early release of the field and dry matter yield is needed,

perhaps triticale silage, harvested at the boot stage, might be the best option. There are several harvest timing observations to highlight. The most obvious one is the difference in dry matter yield between small grains harvested at the boot stage and those harvested at the soft-dough stage (see graph). In most cases, harvesting at the soft-dough stage more than doubled the dry matter yield compared to a boot stage harvest. Therefore, if dry matter yield is a priority, then rye or triticale at the soft-dough stage might provide the best options. If a balance between dry matter yield and early release of the field is needed, then barley becomes a more suitable option. It is worth paying attention to the

grains at the soft-dough stage compared to the boot stage. Our intention is to expand these chemical and economic analyses using multiple varieties within species to provide a more holistic view and interpretation of small grains management for silage. As an early assessment of forage quality based on a subjective visual appraisal, the mild drought observed in the late spring of 2021 seemed to substantially affect the forages harvested at the soft-dough stage. This was particularly evident for some rye and triticale varieties and not as much for the barley varieties that were harvested before the drought became severe. In summary, many management options for small grain silage are

Small grain silage yield at the boot and soft-dough stages 6.7


Dry matter yield, ton/Ac


EADING about small grains for silage in the middle of the summer might seem untimely; however, a post-season evaluation of small grains for silage is always good for adjusting future management and making better decisions. Several questions typically arise when planning small grains for silage. How can annual winter grasses fit in a double-crop rotation? What species should be planted? When should small grains be harvested? To address these questions, we planted several winter-annual grasses in a plot study that was replicated in three different regions of Virginia. These included Blacksburg (Site 1), which is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and has an elevation of approximately 2,000 feet (the coolest environment); Blackstone (Site 2), which is located in the Southern Piedmont region and has an elevation of approximately 450 feet (the hottest environment); and Orange (Site 3), which is located in the Northern Piedmont region and has an elevation of approximately 500 feet (an intermediate environment). In each of these regions, we planted four varieties of triticale (TT), two varieties of rye (RY), and two varieties of barley (BA) in triplicates. All these varieties were harvested at the boot and soft-dough stage of maturity.



■ Boot ■ Soft-dough



4.6 3.8




3 2 1 0












RY-Site 1 RY-Site 2 RY-Site 3 BA-Site 1 BA-Site 2 BA-Site 3 TT-Site 1 TT-Site 2 TT-Site 3

short window that barley has to reach the soft-dough maturity stage. From a logistics perspective, this may be very important when large areas need to be harvested with small-scale equipment.

Price influences timing For this project, a lot of work is still pending regarding forage quality. Economic analyses from our laboratory with data generated by Wayne Coblentz at the Dairy Forage Research Center in Wisconsin show that when commodity prices are high (as they currently are), cheaper diets can be formulated when triticale is harvested at the boot stage than when harvested at the soft-dough stage. On the other hand, when commodity prices are low, cheaper diets can be formulated when harvesting small

available to meet the agronomic, ecologic, nutritional, and economic needs of the dairy farm. This project, which is funded by the Virginia Agricultural Council, is a collaboration with my laboratory assistant, Christy Teets, and my colleagues Wade Thomason and Katye Payne from the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech. •

GONZALO FERREIRA The author is an associate professor, department of dairy science, Virginia Tech.

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by Adam Verner

New machinery inventories are slim on many dealer lots, which has substantially elevated the price and demand for lowhour, used equipment.

Mike Rankin

It’s a waiting game


HAT a year 2021 is shaping up to be. Commodities were “limit up” for a week straight, then two weeks later, “limit down” each day. Feeder cattle have been steady, and milk has seemed to hold its own as well. One thing that has been a disappointment in the agricultural sector is farm equipment. Whether it is a delay in parts delivery from UPS or FedEx, lack of new iron on dealers’ lots, or the exploding value of good, used equipment, the equipment business has been a roller coaster this year with both highs and lows. Let’s break down a few of the issues we seem to have encountered, and I’ll offer my two cents on how long before some sort of normalcy returns. To begin, I believe the problem that can be solved with the least number of headaches relates to the parts shortage and shipping issues. This has affected all of us, no matter what color of equipment resides in the shed. The problem has been caused by manufacturers not having enough employees to produce items at full capacity and suppliers not having shipping containers to supply needed components to finish the product. The same has been true in the automotive industry. By the end of the summer, most retailers and manufacturers should at least be able to offer an accurate timeline as to when you can expect a part to be delivered.

Unlike a normal year, we have had numerous packages not show up on time or with damaged or missing parts. I was tracking an overnight freight shipment this spring that did not make it on time, and I finally got a manager on the phone who was willing to explain the situation to me. The blame went to COVID-19, but not in the way you might think.

A vaccine priority Apparently, when the U.S. government contracted with both UPS and FedEx to deliver vaccines, they requested a significant amount of workforce — up to one-third, according to the manager I spoke to. In addition, a substantial number of planes and trucks were relegated to the effort. As a business owner, I could not imagine still trying to run a company without the top one-third of my assets and employees. When you think about it in this light, I find myself being a little more patient with deliveries and have confidence that things will soon return to normal as fewer vaccine shipments are needed.

Watch the steel price For many farmers and ranchers, purchasing new equipment this year has been a waiting game. Unfortunately, I do not see us catching up anytime soon.

I think it will be at least until the end of next summer or early fall before there is some relief and equipment manufacturers get caught up with the backlog of orders from dealers. Some companies are currently citing delivery times of eight to 12 months out on certain types of equipment. The one factor I believe will determine how fast we catch up is the price of steel. If it remains high, I don’t believe dealers and farmers will order as much new equipment this fall for 2022 production. This will allow production to catch up faster. If steel prices come back down, I expect dealers to fill up their lots again with new inventory that’s ready to sell. If there’s not a good selection of new equipment, most farmers may shy away from upgrading to newer used tractors or implements. The used market is one that has been interesting to watch. Equipment values have skyrocketed this year with the shortage of new iron coupled with high commodity prices. This is a good thing for most people, as iron gets moved. However, the used machinery market will likely be tight for the next several years. The lack of new equipment being sold during the last part of 2020 and all of 2021 will have a trickle-down effect for the foreseeable future. A low-hour, low-use unit of anything will be tough to come by for many months to come. If you find a unit that fits your needs, snatch it up. Another one may not come along for quite a while. If your current equipment line is running well and in good condition, it may be best to hold off trading for a while to see what happens. Keep a close eye on interest rates and the equipment inventory situation. Better times will come for purchasing equipment, but for now, we’re clearly in a holding pattern. •

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

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Start with these soil health principles by Hugh Aljoe


O, WHAT is regenerative ranching? Noble Research Institute has defined it as the process of restoring degraded grazing lands using practices based on ecological principles. In essence, regenerative ranching is managing grazing lands to enhance the water cycle, mineral cycle, energy cycle, and community dynamics within our ranches by applying practices that adhere to the six soil health principles. 1. Know your context This principle has often been stated, but the Understanding Ag LLC founders added it to the front of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) list of five soil health principles. Context is always important. It considers climate, past management, original pre-European settlement state, current and recent conditions, regional history, the skills and abilities of the people operating the land, and the property’s resources. Most producers have some understanding of the context based on current conditions, but the historical record is often overlooked. Almost all grazing lands are in a degraded state compared to pre-settlement. We do not have to settle on a stewardship goal of “sustaining or conserving” what we currently have; we can actually improve the soil. Knowing the historical context elevates a stewardship goal to a target that is both measurable and achievable through regenerative management. 2. Keep the soil covered Most ranchers with a stewardship goal strive to do this, even with grazed croplands. The more arid the country, the more difficult this is to achieve; however, most producers with a conservation or stewardship ethic leave more residual after grazing events, allow for more plants and litter cover between existing plants, allow for recovery of grazed pastures by providing more rest or deferment, and actively manage stock numbers. Regardless of grazing land use (native range, introduced pasture, or grazed cropland), regenerative ranchers strive to minimize the amount of bare ground.

3. Minimize disturbance Disturbance comes in many forms, including tillage, mowing, haying, fertilizing, chemical applications, fire, and grazing. As we have come to realize the negative effects of erosion, grazing land managers have reduced tillage activities, adopted no-till cropping, or turned cropland into perennial pasture. However, many farmers and ranchers don’t realize the impact of grazing and routine practices on pastures. Ideally, to minimize disturbance, pastures should be grazed for short periods of time with individual grass plants being defoliated once per grazing event and then allowed to fully recover before being grazed again. Grazing

Building soil health requires an intentional and long-term commitment.

management needs to be adaptive to balance the needs of plant recovery and livestock performance. Using fertilizers and chemicals on grazing lands impacts nontarget life above and below the soil. Routine use of both adversely affects soil organisms that could work with plants to build healthier and more productive soil. Reducing, and when possible eliminating, the routine need for fertilizer and chemicals is an objective of regenerative ranching. Most producers would like to reduce these two costly inputs, and regenerative ranching can help them achieve this. 4. Maintain living plants/roots Perennials, which have living and functioning roots during both growing and dormant seasons, have a distinct advantage over annuals. Most ranchers and farmers with grazing livestock typically rely on perennial pasture and have converted the most marginal croplands to perennial pastures. Actively

growing roots provide opportunity for soil organisms to develop symbiotic relationships with the plants in which nutrients are exchanged and soil structure is built. The more actively growing roots growing within the soil, the more rapidly soil health, organic matter, and structure can be enhanced. 5. Enhance diversity Native range usually has a distinct diversity advantage over introduced pastures and grazed croplands, which are usually managed as monocultures. Good-condition native pastures are naturally diverse with a mixture of grasses, forbs, and woody species; perennials and annuals; and usually warm-season and cool-season forages. Location often determines the mix. Diverse annual crop mixtures are most effective when planted in grazed croplands, especially if double-cropped (cool-season and warm-season mixtures) to provide multiseason grazing. It is more challenging to manage for diversity in introduced pastures because traditional, costly management strives to maintain them as monocultures. Interseeding or overseeding introduced pastures with a mixture of annual forages can create needed diversity to begin regenerative efforts to improve soil health and soil biology. Depending on the soil metrics, some fertility may be needed at a minimal rate until the soil biology can sustain adequate plant growth. In addition, the mixture of annuals interseeded into perennial, introduced pastures usually extends the grazing season on these pastures. Interseeding may initially come as an added expense, but greater diversity can become a cost-effective benefit to the livestock and the soil organisms if pastures are managed appropriately and planted with forages that can be used by grazing livestock.

HUGE ALJOE The author is the director of producer relations at Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Okla.

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regenerative ranching. It also includes multispecies grazing. Adding different livestock to the operation requires some infrastructure additions in most cases, but more importantly, it requires a mindset change. With improving soil health, enhanced diversity will be observed in plant and animal species, including wildlife, birds, insects, and soil organisms 6. Properly integrate livestock The grazing management aspect of “properly” integrating livestock can be difficult for those adopting regenerative ranching. The challenge becomes how to properly apply grazing management to fit the context of the operation while rebuilding soils. Effective grazing is adaptive, flexible, varying in intensity and stock density, and intentional. Plant rest and recovery periods need to be managed and planned. Grazing events should be short, usually less than three to four days in a given area, typically with the ability to move cattle daily or multiple times a day. Allow some pastures to accumulate peak production before being grazed with the highest

stock density possible, moving livestock to fresh forage at least daily. This allows livestock to graze the highest quality material and trample the rest on the surface to feed the soil organisms. It is with the higher stock density grazing that manure and urine are more evenly deposited across grazed areas, providing additional nutrients to the soil and soil organisms. In addition, grazing multiple species of livestock — cattle, sheep, and goats for starters, if the grazing lands have the forages to complement these livestock — is desirable in regenerative ranching. Different livestock can be added in stages to provide benefits to the land and additional revenue streams. Concerns of time and infrastructure costs limit adoption. However, adoption of regenerative practices is made easier if the farmer or rancher begins by making use of what is already present and committing to one easy-to-manage area.

Start small The bottom line is regenerative ranching doesn’t have to be difficult to

adopt. The transition to regenerative does not have to be an “all or nothing” approach. Most progressive producers with a land stewardship ethic are doing much of what regenerative ranchers are doing. The full adoption of regenerative ranching requires starting where one can fully commit to an area within their operation and apply practices in alignment with the soil health principles. If you’re still questioning whether regenerative ranching is worthy of consideration, ask yourself these questions: Is your operation more financially sound today than 10 years ago? Are your soils considerably more productive with less inputs today than they were 10 years ago? Is your operation able to add a son or daughter to the operation, and would you be excited to have them join the operation if it could? If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, you might consider regenerative ranching because those producers are answering “yes” to the same questions. •











Contact Mountain View Seeds at 503.588.7333 for a free 2021 MVS Forage & Cover Crop Guide www.mtviewseeds.com August/September 2021 | hayandforage.com | 29

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Mike Rankin

The optimum amount of time to feed hay is governed by hay cost, cow-calf profitability, and farm cost structure.



N THE April/May 2021 issue of Hay & Forage Grower, I wrote an article titled “How hay became a four-letter word.” The basic message was that there is a trade off between hay feeding and stocking rate: Trying to reduce the amount of hay fed will require a reduction in stocking rate, assuming that management is held constant. Reduced hay feeding will lower costs, but the corresponding decline in stocking rate will reduce revenues. Thus, we need to account for both factors to determine how much hay feeding will be most profitable. This article goes into the details of that trade-off and provides multiple scenarios that allow

farms in the Fescue Belt to determine the most profitable hay-feeding period given their specific situation. Three factors have the most impact on the most profitable hay-feeding period: net hay cost, general cow-calf profitability, and overall farm cost structure. Each will be discussed and accounted for in this analysis.

$5 per ton with most conventional hay feeding practices, to as much as $20 to $25 per ton if feeding by unrolling hay or bale grazing. Subtract this fertilizer value from the gross hay cost to get net hay cost. For example, if the cost of your hay is estimated at $80 per ton, and the nutrient value of feeding this hay is estimated at $10

Net hay cost The effect of hay prices should be obvious. With high prices, the most profitable feeding period will shift lower, and with low hay prices, it will shift higher. The base hay cost also needs to be adjusted for the fertilizer value of feeding the hay, which will range from a low of $0 to

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

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per ton, the net hay cost would be $70 per ton.

Cow profitability As discussed in the previous article, if high calf prices are expected into the foreseeable future, we would want to boost the stocking rate, and vice versa. High calf prices means high overall profitability, and reducing our hay feeding by lowering our stocking rate results in a severe loss on the revenue side. The loss of revenue would generally be greater than the cost savings from reduced hay feeding when base profitability is high. When evaluating cow profitability relative to stocking rate, also consider costs that will change as additional cows are added or subtracted. A good example of a cost that should not be included is depreciation and interest on equipment and facilities. We could have 20 cows or 40 cows on a 100-acre farm, and these overall depreciation/interest costs do not change. Only those costs that change as we add or subtract cows will be considered. The main costs that fall into this second category are feed costs (hay), mineral, vet/medicine, breeding, marketing, and cow depreciation/interest. Labor is an example of a cost that falls into both categories. If the number of cows on that same farm jumped from 20 to 40, our labor costs rise, but not double. See Table 1 for details of these costs used in the analysis. Hay cost per cow will change depending on the scenario and is also adjusted by an additional labor/machinery cost of $7.50 per ton for feeding compared to grazing for the same equivalent number of days.

Farm costs Costs will vary by farm, and other factors being equal, those farms with lower cost structures will be more profitable compared to farms with higher cost structures, and vice versa. A $25 savings in costs would have the same effect as a $25 boost in revenues from a higher calf market. This makes the most profitable hay-feeding period for a farm with a low cost structure (more profitable) longer than a farm with a higher cost structure, holding hay costs constant, which is accounted for separately.

Crunching numbers The following analysis is applicable to the Fescue Belt, and adjustments need

to be made outside of this region. These are discussed in the last section. The analysis assumes a 100-acre farm that has all of its land in pasture and either has its hay ground at a separate location or buys its hay. The base stocking rate is 57 cows on this farm for a hay feeding period of 150 days (assumes good management). Two stocking rate scenarios are evaluated where hay-feeding days drop 30 days at a time: 1. Stocking rate gradually decreases down to 28.5 cows for zero hay feeding days (50% stocking rate compared to the base). 2. Stocking rate gradually falls to 23.6 cows for zero hay feeding days (41% stocking rate compared to the base). Two stocking rate scenarios are presented in Table 2 and Table 3 so that the user can choose which relative stocking rate decrease seems more realistic given their situation. The average weighted steer/heifer price is $1.40 per pound for a 525pound calf. Weaning weight and weaning rate change by the hay feeding period/stocking rate and gradually rise by 40 pounds and 3 percentage points respectively, going from 150 to zero hay-feeding days. Tables 2 and 3 show the profit change for the various hay-feeding days compared to the base stocking rate for 150 hay-feeding days. Three net hay cost scenarios are presented: $50 per ton, $60 per ton, and $70 per ton, which represent the cost to produce or buy the hay, less any nutrient value the user derives from feeding the hay. The numbers in the table are interpreted as the profit change relative to the 150 hay-feeding days scenario. For example, in Table 2, using the $60 per ton net hay price, the 90 hay-feeding days scenario shows a plus $2,900 value. This means that lowering the

stocking rate to reduce hay feeding from 150 to 90 days a year boosts profit on the farm by $2,900 (with the scenario of $60 per ton net hay). If, for example, overall profitability was minus $1,000 for the 150-day hay feeding scenario, overall profitability for the 90-day hay feeding scenario would be -$1,000 + $2,900 = $1,900. Again, the numbers in the table are relative to the 150-day hay-feeding scenario and not absolute profitability numbers. With the $60 per ton net hay price, the 60-day hay-feeding period had the highest relative profitability using Table 2, and the 90-day hay-feeding period had the highest relative profitability using Table 3. The hay feeding day levels where relative profitability is highest within a few hundred dollars are shaded in each table. As previously noted, two tables are presented so that you can choose which relative stocking rate is more appropriate based on your conditions. Use that table and then the net hay price that best represents your situation to determine what hay feeding period will be most profitable. If you are unsure which table is best, I would average the two tables. Summarizing the results for the most profitable hay-feeding days using the average of these two tables: $50 per ton net hay

0 hay-feeding 9 days

$60 per ton net hay

0 to 90 6 hay-feeding days

$70 per ton net hay

0 to 60 3 hay-feeding days

A few results are worth highlighting: 1. Feeding hay for 150 days was never close to being most profitable. continued on following page >>>

Table 1: Annual additional costs per cow as stocking rate changes (Note: Hay cost changes by scenario) Labor (variable/cow)












Cow depreciation/interest


Total specified costs

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As an example, if your net hay cost is estimated at $70 per ton, you would boost profitability by $4,500 (Table 2) or $3,200 (Table 3) per year by adjusting the stocking rate to feed 60 days of hay per year, on average, compared to 150 days. On a 100-acre farm, this is a significant profit improvement. 2. Reducing your stocking rate to reach zero hay-feeding days was never most profitable and was only close to being most profitable in two of the six scenarios. 3. In most scenarios, 60 to 90 days of hay feeding were either the most profitable or very close to being the most profitable. Thus, my general recommendation for most farms in the Fescue Belt is to strive for 60 to 90 days of hay feeding in most years.

Make adjustments Obviously, different farms will have different cost structures and different regions will have different prices for the same calves. For example, a calf in Missouri will likely sell for 10 cents more per pound than that same calf in Virginia, given their proximity to the major feedlots. You can modify the results in the table if your price outlook is different than the 525-pound steer or heifer average of $1.40 per pound. Make a rough adjustment of two weeks for each 10 cents per pound

change in price. As an example, if the table says 90 days of hay feeding would be most profitable, and if your price outlook was $1.50 per pound, the optimal hay-feeding days would lengthen to roughly 105 days. If your price outlook was $1.30 per pound, then the optimal hay-feeding days shortens to about 75 days. This same adjustment applies to differences from the $285 additional costs per cow used in this analysis (see Table 1). Make a rough adjustment of two weeks for each $45 change from this base cost. For example, if your costs are $45 higher than the estimated $285, shorten the number of hay-feeding days by roughly 15 days from what is recommended in the table. Finally, if you make your own hay, do not include your fixed costs of production for the haymaking equipment since these costs will not change as you make less or more hay needed for a change in stocking rate. If you do not have good variable cost estimates, I currently recommend using $60 to $75 per ton.

Different place, different time Every region has its own unique dynamics related to growing season, forage growth curves, and the ability to stockpile forage for effective winter grazing. What works best in the Fescue

Belt may not necessarily work best in other regions. For example, the most profitable hay-feeding period will be longer as you head north from this region, at least in the eastern U.S. In the western U.S., the results could likely go in both directions. In areas in the West with relatively low snowfall and where forages can stockpile well for winter grazing, optimal hay-feeding days would likely be lower. In the previous article, it was noted that the 2006 to 2010 era had extremely low calf prices and that the most profitable hay feeding period would have been lower during that time. The same analysis was conducted for that time period by adjusting calf prices to 90 cents per pound for the 525-pound steer or heifer average and by adjusting the additional costs per cow downward to $225. The results: Depending on net hay cost, zero to 30 hay-feeding days was the most profitable strategy during that time frame, just as Jim Gerrish recommended in his 2010 book “Kick the hay habit.” Having a high stocking rate and corresponding high hay-feeding period would have been very costly. For example, with a $60 per ton net cost, profitability would have been roughly $7,000 lower on the 100-acre farm at 150 hay-feeding days compared to 30 days. •

Table 2: Stocking rate drops slower as hay-feeding days decrease (Profit change compared to 150 hay-feeding days) Hay-feeding days

Stocking rate (Cows per 100 acres)

$50/ton net hay

$60/ton net hay

$70/ton net hay































Base scenario: $1.40 per pound for steer/heifer 525 pounds; $285 additional cost/cow (less hay); $7.50/ton higher labor/machinery cost for feeding hay.

Table 3: Stocking rate drops quicker as hay-feeding days decrease (Profit change compared to 150 hay-feeding days) Hay-feeding days

Stocking rate (cows per 100 acres)

$50/ton net hay

$60/ton net hay

$70/ton net hay































Base scenario: $1.40 per pound for steer/heifer 525 pounds; $285 additional cost/cow (less hay); $7.50/ton higher labor/machinery cost for feeding hay.

32 | Hay & Forage Grower | August/September 2021

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FORAGE IQ Farm Progress Show August 31 to September 2, Decatur, Ill. Details: farmprogressshow.com Southeastern Hay Short Course September 2, Lake City, Fla. Details: bit.ly/HFG-SEHSC Husker Harvest Days September 14 to 16, Grand Island, Neb. Details: huskerharvestdays.com National Hay Association Convention September 15 to 18, San Diego, Calif. Details: nationalhay.org Alfalfa in the South Workshop September 16, Tifton, Ga. Details: georgiaforages.caes.uga.edu Kentucky Fall Grazing School September 22 and 23, Versailles, Ky. Details: forages.ca.uky.edu/Events Alfalfa & Forage Field Day September 23, Parlier, Calif. Details: ucanr.edu/blogs/Alfalfa World Dairy Expo World Forage Analysis Superbowl Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, Madison, Wis. Hay crop entries due Aug. 26 Details: bit.ly/HFG-WFAS Kentucky Grazing Conference October 26, 27, or 28 (3 locations) Details: forages.ca.uky.edu/Events Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Hay Contest October 19 to 21, Moultrie, Ga. Hay contest entries due September 1 Details: bit.ly/HFG-SHC Western Alfalfa & Forage Symposium November 16 to 18, Reno, Nev. Details: calhay.org/symposium Alabama Forage Conference December 2, Russellville, Ala. Details: bit.ly/HFG-ALforage


Hay prices are holding Hay prices remained strong throughout the heart of the harvest season, especially in areas where drought has reduced both hay and pasture yields. Alfalfa hay exports were trending 3.5% behind last year through May, but China remains a strong buyer. There’s no reason to believe hay markets will soften anytime soon. The USDA’s Acreage report pegs

2021 hay acres at 51.5 million, down about 1% from last year. Alfalfa acres retreated less than 1% to 16.1 million acres. Final estimates won’t be available until January 2022. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of the beginning of mid-July. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted. •

For weekly updated hay prices, go to “USDA Hay Prices” at hayandforage.com Supreme-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (northern SJV) Idaho (south central) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (northeast) Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri New Mexico (eastern) South Dakota South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Texas (Panhandle) Texas (west)-ssb Washington Wyoming (eastern) Premium-quality alfalfa California (intermountain) California (central SJV)-ssb Colorado (southeast) Idaho (south central) Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (south central) Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Pipestone)-ssb Missouri Montana-ssb Nebraska (eastern) New Mexico (southeast) Oklahoma (northwest) Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-ssb South Dakota Texas (Panhandle) Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (western)-ssb Good-quality alfalfa California (central SJV) California (northern SJV) California (southeast) Colorado (northeast) Idaho (south central) Idaho (western) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (north central) Minnesota (Sauk Centre)-lrb Minnesota (Pipestone) Missouri Montana Nebraska (central)-lrb Nebraska (Platte Valley)-lrb Oklahoma (western)-lrb Oregon (Crook-Wasco)

Price $/ton 310 248-280 250 213 200-225 200-280 280-310 200-250 250 250 245 290-300 300-315 240 225 Price $/ton 280-285 265 240-260 240 188-195 177 200 265-290 200 160-200 325 225 260-270 200 260-265 250-310 200-225 260-280 285 220-240 Price $/ton 230 225-250 210-220 180 220 240 145-160 165-200 220-260 200 120-160 350 115 120-130 150 265

Oregon (Lake County) (d) Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota-lrb Texas (Panhandle) Washington Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb Fair-quality alfalfa Colorado (southeast) Idaho (western) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (north central)-lrb Kansas (northeast) (d) Missouri New Mexico (southern) (d) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Washington Wisconsin (Lancaster) (d) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Premium lrb Alabama-Premium ssb California (southeast)-Good ssb Oklahoma (north central)-Supreme lrb Texas (central)-Premium ssb Texas (south)-Fair/Good lrb Bromegrass hay Kansas (northeast)-Good lrb Kansas (southeast)-Premium ssb Orchardgrass hay California (intermountain)-Good ssb (d) Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Premium ssb Oregon (Harney)-Good Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good Pennsylvania (southeast)-Fair Wyoming (western)-Premium ssb (d) Timothy hay California (intermountain)-Premium ssb Montana-Good/Premium ssb Oregon (eastern)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good-ssb Washington-Premium ssb (d) Oat hay California (northern SJV)-Good ssb Colorado (southeast)-Premium Iowa-Good/Premium lrb Kansas (south central)-Good South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Straw Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (south central) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Montana Pennsylvania (southeast)-ssb South Dakota

225 200-250 200 230-240 235 130-180 Price $/ton 180 200-210 123 100-140 110-150 100-125 160 145-155 200 115 Price $/ton 125-133 180-300 200 130 280-330 120-130 Price $/ton 85-95 135 Price $/ton 250 260-285 200 150-220 85-155 230 Price $/ton 210 360 255 270 200-265 340 Price $/ton 190 145 85 120 130 Price $/ton 93-118 120 70-100 100-150 185-190 110





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

38 | Hay & Forage Grower | August/September 2021

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PUT YOUR FORAGES TO THE TEST Forage growers across the country are invited to participate in the 2021 World Forage Analysis Superbowl. Award-winning samples will be displayed in the newly-renovated Trade Center at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, Sept. 28 – Oct. 2. Winners will be announced during the Brevant seeds Forage Superbowl Luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Alfalfa Haylage Baleage Commercial Hay Dairy Hay Grass Hay Mixed/Grass Haylage

Contest rules and entry forms are available at foragesuperbowl.org, by calling Dairyland Laboratories at (920) 336-4521 or by contacting any of the sponsors listed below.

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ROUND UP YOUR BEST BALES. The Massey Ferguson® RB Series round baler and Protec baler offer you consistent bales that withstand any condition for quality feed 365 days a year. Don’t just produce great hay, protect it with the added integrated wrapper1 for fast and effective baling and wrapping on the go.

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Visit your local Massey Ferguson dealer to learn more or visit www.masseyferguson.com/en_us/products/hay-and-forage. 1 Added wrapper available on Protec baler only. 2 Subject to credit review and approval and other terms and conditions. All financing is in AGCO Finance LLC’s sole discretion. ©2021 AGCO Corporation. Massey Ferguson is a worldwide brand of AGCO Corporation. AGCO and Massey Ferguson are trademarks of AGCO. All rights reserved.

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Silage Quality: Efficient Acetic Acid Production

BONSILAGE CORN+ and PRO During a batch fermentation trial, we evaluated the fermentation profile of corn silage samples treated with BONSILAGE CORN+ (BS CORN+) and BONSILAGE PRO (BS PRO) compared to corn silage not treated with an inoculant. The average DM of samples tested was 32.7% ± 0.55. The fermentation profile is characterized by pH, lactic acid, acetic acid, ethanol, and 1,2-propanediol.

Corn silage season is upon us and growers are doing all they can to make sure their corn silage is at optimal


quality. As growers check for quality, there are a few

When it comes to fermentation, two of our main focuses with corn silage are what occurs during feed out and how aerobically stable the feed is. Spoilage microorganisms like yeasts and molds can be responsible for aerobic instability and losses of valuable nutrients and dry matter. A strong inhibitor of yeasts and molds is acetic acid. Acetic acid can provide better aerobic stability and protect against DM and energy losses during feed-out. by the types of microorganisms that dominate the Inefficient


6.00 5.00 4.00 3.00 2.00 1.00 0.00 pH

The efficiency of acetic acid production is determined fermentation.




comes from “wild” fermentations that are driven by microorganisms like Enterobacteria. Along with degrading the quality of the silage by using up valuable nutrients, these microorganisms can produce other metabolites that can be toxic and affect intake. Though it is clear that acetic acid is beneficial to growers, it can be difficult to determine where the acid


growers can look at fermentation profiles and pH.


sure the fermentation process went well for silage,

Mean pH fermentation profile in % DM

check should be the fermentation process. To make




areas they should pay special attention to. One quality

Lactic acid

Acetic acid



Figure 1. The pH and fermentation profile of corn silage ensiled for 90 days to determine the effects of innoculation with BS CORN+ and BS PRO against silage that was not inoculated (Control).

When comparing BS PRO that contains a combination of Lb. brevis, Lb. plantarum, and Lb. buchneri at an application rate of 150,000 cfu/g of fresh forage the BS PRO was able to successfully dominate the fermentation and produce more of both lactic and acetic acid (6.84% DM and 2.21% DM). Higher levels of efficiently produced acetic acid not only provide better protection against reheating but allows for the delivery of high-quality silage to the cow. BS CORN+, our premium treatment for corn silage contains a combination of

is coming from and the efficiency of that production.

Lb. plantarum and Lb. buchneri at an application rate of 500,000 cfu/g of fresh

The solution to obtaining acetic acid levels efficiently

forage. Due to this high concentration of Lb. buchneri, there is a slightly lower

is to use an inoculant containing a microorganism

amount of lactic acid compared to control. The Lb. buchneri efficiently converted

like Lactobacillus buchneri. These heterofermentative

lactic acid to acetic acid to obtain higher levels of acetic acid than the control





(3.72% DM vs. 1.42% DM). This provides better aerobic stability and protection

fermentation and efficiently produce

against dry matter losses during feed-out. Within the BS CORN+ formulation, the

acetic acid with minimal DM and nutrient




fermentation with a researchproven inoculant can help us dominate the wild population of



produce high-quality silage.

Lb. buchneri strain present can produce significant amounts of 1,2-propanediol or more commonly known as propylene glycol (PG). BS CORN+ and BS PRO efficiently produce significant amounts of acetic acid to inhibit yeasts and molds and protect against reheating. Using a research-proven inoculant like BS CORN+ or BS PRO will take your silage to the next level by dominating the fermentation and creating a high-quality end-product.

Visit BONSILAGEUSA.com to learn more.

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