Hay & Forage Grower – Apr/May 2022

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April/May 2022

Put a pasture walk on your to-do list

pg 9

Forty years of forage equipment progress pg 10 Where’s the alfalfa sweet spot?

pg 18

Don’t bail on baler maintenance

pg 25

Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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4/11/2022 8:49:38 AMAM 4/11/22 11:49

April/May 2022 · VOL. 37 · No. 4 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



Worming their way to better hay Emily Fulstone views her family’s Nevada ranch as an ecosystem. She has turned to worms as a means to help boost alfalfa yields on the ranch while reducing fertilizer inputs.

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

DEPARTMENTS 4 First Cut 9 The Pasture Walk 12 Dairy Feedbunk 14 Alfalfa Checkoff


Wagons and a hay business built to last These Ohio brothers are building a successful hay business with mostly family labor and some heavy-duty hay wagons.

25 Forage Gearhead


29 Feed Analysis 31 Beef Feedbunk

Keep pastures productive in good times and bad Pasture management decisions have both longand short-term impacts. For those challenging years, it’s important to plan ahead.





















38 Forage IQ 38 Hay Market Update ON THE COVER

These cows in Sevier County, Ark., reflect on their enjoyment of new spring grass and off the water in their pasture’s pond. In January, USDA reported that the U.S. beef cow herd numbered 30.1 million. Arkansas is home 905,000 beef cows, 145,000 replacement heifers, and 110,000 steers. More than half of the farms in the state raise beef. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2022 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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Playing defense

M Mike Rankin Managing Editor

OST sports fans like a good offensive game. Seeing runs or points scored is generally much more compelling entertainment than a defensive battle. Offense is also more highly valued by general managers, who often have their quarterbacks or home run hitters at the top of the pay scale. In recent years, baseball geeks and front office staff have become more appreciative of defensive contributions. A part of that change in philosophy is the result of new defensive metrics. One of these measures is called defensive runs saved, or DRS. So, instead of measuring how many runs a player scored or how many home runs they hit, DRS quantifies how many opponents’ runs a player “saved” compared to the average player. The single-season DRS record belongs to Andrelton Simmons, who saved 41 runs above average in 2017 for the Los Angeles Angels. A run saved is as good as a run earned from a scoreboard perspective. Defense has value; it’s just harder to measure and often doesn’t show up in a box score. So, what does any of this have to do with forage production? The answer is everything, especially this year. Sports fans like their home runs, touchdowns, and goals. Forage producers and marketers like big yields. We often measure a production practice or variety’s worth by the return we get, or don’t get, in yield value relative to cost. Yield shows up in the silo or barn in the form of tons or bales. Much of what we do, or try to do, equates to getting more production from the same land area. A big yield is a home run, and it often lowers our cost per unit. In baseball, a home run can be neutralized in the next inning with a run scored on a fielding error. In a similar manner, yield is lost beginning with the time that the mower or chopper enters the field. Playing defense in forage production is a matter of eliminating errors and conserving already attained yield. Instead of defensive runs saved, the equivalent forage production statistic would be defensive tons saved. Even more meaningful is defensive nutrients saved. Playing good forage defense has always been important, but “flashing the leather” in 2022 will have more value than ever before. Forage and replacement nutrient sources are at price points rarely or never seen. For forage sellers, a

poor defense will mean significant lost revenue. For forage users, it will translate to higher supplemental feed costs or lost animal production. There are always going to be some unavoidable dry matter losses during harvest and storage. For haymakers who store dry bales under cover, most of the loss will occur in the field from respiration during wilting and leaf loss when raking, tedding, or baling. Of course, hay feedout losses can also be high depending on feeder type. For haylage and silage, a high percentage of unavoidable losses come during storage and feedout. Too many forage, dairy, and beef producers accept much higher than unavoidable losses as a normal cost of doing business, which it isn’t. The very best forage managers are around 10% to 15% total loss from field through feedbunk, and that should be the goal. Unfortunately, it’s still not uncommon to measure double that amount . . . or more. Improving your defensive tons or nutrients saved metrics begins with tedding, raking, or chopping at the correct moisture to minimize field losses. For alfalfa, nearly all of these losses are nutrient-rich leaves. Dry hay storage losses can also mount exponentially when bales are stored outside and uncovered, especially if bale densities are too low. For haylage, baleage, and silage makers, the big losses are avoided when a rapid fermentation occurs and oxygen is eliminated until feedout. Adequate packing, inoculants, and oxygen barrier films help in this regard. Poorly stored silage can have nutrient and dry matter losses approaching 50%. That will be expensive this year. Finally, consider where improvements can be made to minimize feedout losses. Hit your forage quality marks, chop at the right moisture and particle size, and ensure your livestock want and can eat what’s put in front of them. Uneaten forage never translates into milk and gain. Forage production offense is fun, rewarding, and necessary, but it’s likely a good defense, as measured by tons and nutrients saved, that will bring home the profit trophy in 2022. •

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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All photos Amber Friedrichsen

Emily Fulstone uses a Brix refractometer to evaluate plant sugar concentrations on one of the ranch’s alfalfa fields.



n the heart of Smith Valley, Nev., lies the small, conveniently named community of Smith. Blink, and you’d miss it. What you’d open your eyes to see, though, are hayfields reaching well beyond the outskirts of town. Many of these fields are farmed by R.N. Fulstone Company, a commercial operation with high-quality hay and a high-quality reputation. The Fulstone family traces its history in Nevada back to 1856. Leather workers turned farmers, they have resided in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains ever since. Today, the family farms more than 4,000 acres, producing small and large square bales of hay for

customers in central California. While haymaking in this part of the country is not uncommon, the Fulstones’ approach to regenerative agriculture is. Emily Fulstone is the seventh generation to work on the farm. She majored in environmental science and biology at the University of Oregon, gaining newfound knowledge and a passion for change. With the implementation of her management practices, R.N. Fulstone Company has seen elevated nutrient values in their hay. They have also witnessed drastic improvements to their growing environment.

Regenerative results After studying ecosystems in college, Emily returned home to apply what

she learned to the family’s farming operation. She scrutinized their fields and realized they had become dependent on high fertilizer rates. Then she conducted her own research to understand why. “Plants put 40% of the sugars they create through photosynthesis into exudates, which are sugars those plants inject into the soil to feed bacteria,” Emily explained. “In return, the bacteria will break down nutrients and make them available to plants as needed. It’s a symbiotic relationship.” Emily wanted to reduce her family’s dependence on fertilizers and pesticides and build populations of beneficial bacteria in the soil. To do this, she had to get her hands dirty.

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“One of the best ways to produce bacteria is through worms,” she said. “Red wriggler worms have a specific gut system that kill the bad bacteria that cause diseases in plants and propagate the good bacteria that transport nutrients to them.” Emily began raising worms in 2016, using a flow-through compost table and feeding them wood chips, shredded newspapers, and table scraps. There are about 1,000 worms per pound of compost, and she has grown the population to roughly 120 to 150 pounds of worms. Sounds of squirming through the material can be heard just standing near the compost, and a mass of the crawling creatures is quickly revealed upon lifting a banana peel or potato skin from the top of the pile. Worm excrements are collected so bacteria can be extracted from them. These castings are brewed in a large tank with an aerator. In a matter of 24 hours, the number of bacteria from the castings goes from 10,000 to 5 million colony forming units (cfu) per milliliter of water.

Paying dividends The liquid that is produced in the aerator is referred to as “worm tea” and is sprayed on the Fulstones’ crops. “The greatest benefit of putting this on the soil is that it exploits the symbiotic relationship in which plants work with bacteria,” Emily concluded. “Farming can be really great for the environment if we do it in a way that utilizes ecosystems as a whole.” To further enhance the environment, the Fulstones have started using fertilizers that are bioavailable and transported through the bacteria in the soil. This allows the nutrients to be more accessible to plants and reduces the amount of needed purchased fertilizer. What’s more is they haven’t needed to spray pesticides for the past five years. “With the lack of pesticides, predatory species such as ladybugs and green lacewings have been in abundance,” Emily said. “What little pest pressure we have is now controlled by these predatory bugs instead of relying on pesticides.” These efforts have also improved the quality of the Fulstones’ hay. “Using worm tea and bioavailable fertilizers, we have found our total digestible nutrients (TDN) and relative feed value (RFV) are quite a bit higher,” Emily said. “Our hay’s TDN has tested about four points higher on average for the last several years, which is huge.” Emily noted that her father, Steven Fulstone, president of R.N. Fulstone Company, is a big supporter of her regenerative agriculture approach. “I am so grateful I have a dad who is more than willing to try something if I can show that it will work,” she expressed.

In between these harvests, the Fulstones make small square bales with second and third cutting hay for horse owners and retail stores. The operation’s haymaking equipment consists of a John Deere 500R rotary swather with a V-roll conditioner, two Kuhn rakes, two Massey Ferguson 2270 large square balers, and five Hesston 18445 small square balers. They also have two New Holland bale wagons. Carl Weatherford is the farm’s manager, and he has been working for the Fulstones since he was young. There are five other full-time employees, and 10 to 12 seasonal workers are hired each year during haymaking season. Aside from alfalfa, the Fulstones have pastures of orchardgrass and a high alpine meadow grass mix, which they also cut for hay. Although grass hay is popular among the company’s customers, Weatherford said it doesn’t generate as good of a return as alfalfa. “We’ve got quite a bit of grass hay – and it’s high-dollar – but grass takes more water and fertilizer,” Weatherford stated. “We sell it at a higher price, but when you pencil it out, our dollar per acre return is lower.” Since the majority of the company’s customers are from central California, Weatherford analyzes the hay’s test continued on following page >>>

A compost table serves as a means to raise worms. There are about 1,000 worms per pound of compost.

Wait for dew Approximately 60% of the Fulstones’ land is used to grow alfalfa, which is usually seeded in the fall at a robust rate of 28 pounds per acre. The Fulstones cut hay four times a year with 35 to 40 days between cuttings. They will leave hay in windrows for four days, and on the fifth morning, it is baled between 4 and 9 a.m. to take advantage of any dew the early hours have to offer. First and fourth cuttings tend to have higher levels of TDN and crude protein (CP) and are primarily sold to dairy producers. This hay is made into large square bales.

Worm castings are “brewed” in an aeration tank. The number of bacteria in the worm tea grows exponentially.

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About 60% of the Fulstone Ranch is used to grow alfalfa, most of which is marketed in central California. The ranch also custom harvests an additional 1,500 acres of hay for neighbors.

Emily Fulstone is a strong believer in regenerative crop production. She welcomes the opportunity of becoming the next generation to assume the leadership role at her family’s ranch.

results and prices the product according to the Golden State’s market. When buyers make a purchase, they are responsible for their own trucking and hauling. Water is a concern for any kind of crop, and all of the Fulstones’ acres are irrigated. Nearly 80% of their fields use flood irrigation, but they utilize pivots and wheel lines as well. The operation has water rights that allow them to access water out of the West Walker River. This river flows out of Topaz Lake, which is a reservoir for water from the Sierra Nevada Mountain’s snowpack. The Fulstones also have rights to supplemental well water, which are used in drought years like 2021.

Sharing success The Fulstones not only make hay on their fields, but they also do custom forage harvesting on 1,500 acres of their neighbors’ fields. The company manages all of their customers’ irrigation, and some of them choose to have the Fulstones market their hay, too. Emily also works with a few of these farmers to develop environmentally friendly production plans.

“In the spring, I will get soil samples, look at plant health, and do an overview of each field,” she explained. “Then, I give the producers a recommendation of how I think best to treat their field for the growing season.” Advocating for regenerative agriculture has set other farms up for success. Two farmers who Emily has consulted for have adopted practices similar to the Fulstones’. They have reported significantly higher yields and a reduction in pest pressure, and Emily hopes more farmers in their valley follow suit.

Cows come home Yet another enterprise that Emily oversees is the operation’s certified all-natural beef herd of Angus-Hereford crossbred cows. It consists of nearly 1,000 mother cows and 200 replacement heifers. These animals are fed low-quality hay and silage from grain crops in rotation when they call the Fulstones’ feedlots home in the fall. For most of the year, though, the cattle reside on rangeland. Calving season begins in February and lasts through April when branding begins. Then, in early May, these animals are shipped to the Bodie Hills of California to graze permitted land the Fulstones own. Cattle graze higher areas of elevation as vegetation grows. Emily and other cowboys will guide the animals that fall behind the herd on horseback, although most of them move forward on their own. “The permit starts at 7,200 feet and the top is about 10,500 feet,” Emily said. “When the grass up high grows,

we make sure those cattle take themselves to the upper portion.” In October, calves are weaned and shipped back to the farm. They will stay there until December or January when they are sold. Many of these calves are purchased by operations in California, but the Fulstones also have buyers in Colorado and Nebraska. In the meantime, cows are relocated to different permits closer to Smith that open at the beginning of November. They begin grazing at the furthest distance north of town and are slowly driven south. Eventually the herd makes it back to the Fulstones’ farm by mid-February, and the cycle starts over again. Despite the illusion of repetition, Emily said one of her favorite parts of farming is that she can never be quite sure what to expect from one day to the next. She is currently the only Fulstone of her generation interested in agriculture and has already begun her succession of presiding over R.N. Fulstone Company. Under Emily’s leadership, the farm will continue to strive toward regenerative production, and she feels fortunate to have the opportunity to put her ideas into action. • AMBER FRIEDRICHSEN The author served as the 2021 Hay and Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends Iowa State University where she is majoring in agricultural communications and agronomy.

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by Jim Gerrish

early 1990s, the group membership had swelled to well over 100 farms covering several northern Missouri counties. We hosted many pasture walks on our own farm over the dozen or so years we belonged to the group, which was up until the time we moved to Idaho in 2004.

Lively conversation

Put a pasture walk on your to-do list


WAS recently asked why my column was called “The Pasture Walk.” I asked the individual if he had ever been to a pasture walk, and the reply was, “No, what’s that?” I am sure many readers have had the experience of enjoying pasture walks on a regular basis, or at least attended one somewhere, sometime. There are other readers who probably have not had the pleasure of doing so, though. A pasture walk is a gathering of farmers and ranchers, usually on someone’s farm, where pasture, livestock, and grazing management are explored and discussed. In extension or educational jargon, a pasture walk would be described as either peerbased or lateral learning. That means rather than an instructor teaching a group of people, they are learning from one another. I have attended many pasture walks over the years in many different places dating back to the late 1980s.

A Kiwi influence As grass-based dairying was beginning to take off in the U.S. in the 1980s, most dairy farmers had no idea how to set up a grazing cell or how to manage pastures. They didn’t know if lifelong confinement cows would even know how to graze a pasture. Grazing networks were formed around the U.S. In some cases, they were organized by extension agents, while others were formed spontaneously at the grassroots level. In all cases, grazing networks were about farmers learning from one another.

Groups like this had existed in New Zealand under the label of “farm study groups” back into the 1970s. There was a lot of New Zealand influence in the early stages of the movement to grass-based dairying in the U.S. The study group concept was one of the spinoffs of Kiwi influence, and that led to the grazing network and pasture walk movement. When we lived in Missouri, I was both a university researcher and a grass farmer. At the height of the farm crisis of the early to mid-1980s, a small group of farmers in north central Missouri banded together to help one another weather the storm. That core group founded what became the Green Hills Farm Project (GHFP). Objectives of the group were to save their farms through creating healthier soils and grasslands while producing healthier and more sustainable pasture-based products. Grass-fed beef was at the top of the list as a direct marketed farm product. Pasture poultry and pasture pork were also being raised by members of the group. One of the activities of the GHFP was a pasture walk every Thursday afternoon followed by a potluck dinner. I was acquainted with all the farmers who formed the original core group. I was initially invited to join the group based on my role as a researcher at the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center. As time went by, I considered myself more of a producer member because I was probably learning more from the farmer-members of the group than they were learning from me. By the

As the name implies, a pasture walk generally involves a stroll across the pastures. During the walk, the host will outline the general operation, specific management objectives, and challenges met. Anyone can ask questions or make suggestions to the host regarding what they are seeing and hearing. Sometimes there is a specific theme or issue the pasture walk will focus on. Occasionally, there might be a guest speaker. There is always a lively conversation among the group. This is the process of lateral learning where knowledge and experiences are shared to help all members of the group avoid the same pitfalls or learn about a new technique or tool they can take back to their own farm. In most cases, there is a communal meal associated with the event that allows further networking to develop. The GHFP in northern Missouri still holds their regular pasture walks monthly, now 37 years after the group’s founding. Many of the grazing networks formed in dairy regions are also still active. The sharing and learning process continues. I have been on pasture walks in many U.S. states, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Australia, Falkland Islands, Mongolia, and other places around the world. In my experience and view, pasture walks are one of the best ways for farmers and ranchers to gain new knowledge. If you have never been to a pasture walk, I strongly encourage you to find the time to do so. It will be a learning experience. •

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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Pull-type forage harvesters dominated how silage was chopped in the 1980s.

Forty years of forage equipment progress Editor’s note: Kevin Shinners has been an influential voice, inventor, and researcher during his 40-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here, he looks back and chronicles the changes in forage equipment that have taken place during his career while also eyeing the future. by Kevin Shinners


N MANY ways, hay and forage equipment remains fundamentally the same as when I began my career 40 years ago, but today, equipment is more sophisticated, intelligent, and productive. In the next 40 years, engineers will continue to pursue new machine forms and adopt technologies to make hay and forage harvesting even more efficient and productive.

Cutting and conditioning The biggest change has been the shift from sickle to disc cutterbars. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was a steady move toward disc cutterbars. Now, sickle cutterbar machines are almost extinct. Much greater productivity has more than offset the greater expense of the disc mower-conditioners. End-wise transport now facilitate cutting widths up to 20 feet. In 1981, windrowers had less than 80 horsepower (hp) and a conditioner and cab were not even standard. Today’s windrowers exceed 200 hp and can easily cut up to 20 acres per hour. Trac-

tor-mounted, wide-area mowers now offer cutting widths in excess of 34 feet and can harvest over 35 acres per hour — more than four times the typical productivity of a windrower from 1981. Guidance systems on tractors and windrowers have helped reduce fatigue and improve efficiency. Mower-conditioners are good candidates for autonomous operation, so we could see fleets of smaller width, electrically driven, autonomous mower-conditioners in the future. Slow, inconsistent drying continues to frustrate hay producers. Despite much development effort, engineers have never been able to make substantial improvements to conditioners and hay drying. Current development efforts to enhance drying rates are limited, so we likely won’t see major improvements in this area in the near future.

Harvesting and storage Forage harvesters still perform the same basic machine functions as 40 years ago, but the market has strongly migrated from pull-type to self-propelled machines. In 1981, there were nine manufacturers of pull-types, and

now only two manufacturers remain. Self-propelled harvesters have grown immensely in size and complexity. The largest machine in 1981 had 325 hp and could harvest six rows. Current machines approach 1,000 hp and can harvest up to 12 rows. The introduction of the kernel processor (KP) in the late 1990s was a game changing development. This mechanism enhanced ruminant starch utilization and allowed longer length-of-cut to enhance effective fiber from the stover fraction. There is no doubt that the KP helped accelerate the greater use of corn silage in the dairy ration. Forage harvesters have not only increased in size but also sophistication. Near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) technology now provides on-board accurate estimates of moisture content and forage constituents. Combined with mass-flow sensing, forage yield maps are possible. Bacterial inoculants can be accurately applied to enhance fermentation. Sensors and controls now guide the machine path and direct the spout to uniformly fill the transporter. None of these technologies were remotely possible in 1981. Since forage harvesters unload continuously, autonomous harvesting will be challenged by the need to manage both the harvester and the continuous fleet of transporters that also need to be moved from field to storage via roadways. Improved fiber digestion from advanced processing systems is being investigated, which could fundamentally change how forages are harvested. In 1981, the tower silo dominated the way we stored ensiled forages and there were an amazing 16 manufacturers selling forage blowers. Today, many tower silos stand as empty monuments to a bygone era. Bunk and bag silos dominate because of greater productivity at filling, lower capital and operating costs, and less daily aggravation. These storage systems helped expedite the adoption of

KEVIN SHINNERS The author is a recently retired professor and agricultural engineer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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A typical sickle mower-conditioner from the early 1980s.

able to produce the windrows that consolidate 30-, 60- or 90-feet of material that are used to satisfy the appetite of today’s large self-propelled harvester. Rotary rakes and tedders first developed in Europe are now common ways to improve drying rates and windrow crops.

Lost along the way

the total mixed ration (TMR) system, perhaps the most important change in dairy nutrition in the last 40 years.

Baling In 1981, baling was dominated by the small square baler (SSB). Large round balers (LRB) were beginning their ascendancy, and the large square baler (LSB) had only recently been introduced. There was a strong move to the LRB as manufacturers of loose hay stacking wagons declined to five and sellers of LRB climbed to 13. Today, the SSB is mainly used to make hay for the equine and export markets, and the manufacture of loose hay stacking wagons has vanished. The dominant way hay is packaged today is with the LRB. Net wrap became widely available in the 1990s, and this development greatly improved productivity and reduced storage losses. Precutters now allow size reduction at baling, which enhances feeding and mixing. Most of our harvest machines have grown in size, but surprisingly, LRB bale size has not changed at all. We still use 4 or 5 foot wide and 4- to 6-foot diameter bales, the same sizes offered 40 years ago. Bale size has a large impact on the cost of gathering, storing, and feeding hay, so it is possible that new LRB sizes could be coming. A major shift in hay packaging was the adoption of the LSB. The development of the intermittent feeder and double knotter were game-changing technologies that helped make these machines possible. Interestingly, offering smaller bale sizes — from the initial 4x4 to the 3x4 or 3x3 — helped spur greater use of the LSB. Steam application now allows hay producers in arid regions to bale even when dew is not present. Wrapping and fermenting baled silage was virtually unheard of in 1981. But baleage is common now in response to producers’ desire to reduce the time between cutting and baling and their

frustration with slow drying. Non-stop round baling has been a Holy Grail for baler manufacturers for decades. Although a few such machines are now offered, they have not been widely adopted. Tractor-implement automation and a host of productivity improvements have reduced the demand for a nonstop baler. Self-propelled machines lend themselves to autonomous operation, but currently only one such baler is offered in the U.S. Autonomous bale gathering and staging may be more widely adopted before autonomous baling.

Hay conditioning Side-delivery and wheel rakes dominated the way we windrowed hay for chopping and baling in 1981. Although wheel rakes remain popular due to their low cost and simplicity, side-delivery rakes are fading in importance. Mergers were unheard of in 1981 because they were unnecessary for the low-capacity pull-type harvesters that dominated chopping. It would have been unthink-

Systems that were in-practice in 1981 but have greatly faded include alfalfa dehy, in-field alfalfa cubing, in-barn bale drying, and loose hay stacker wagons. Some technologies promised great changes — like the rapid-hay drying maceration and mat formation system and the International Harvester alfalfa juice Probine system — but were unable to overcome technical and economic hurdles.

Technology and cost Electro-hydraulic controls, engine load management, on-board moisture and constituent sensors, machine guidance, yield mapping, and inoculant application are just some of the technologies that have made equipment more productive, intelligent, and efficient. Application of these technologies is one reason why machine costs have risen greater than the rate of inflation (Table 1). The cost of windrowers and forage harvesters has risen greater than the rate of inflation because these machines are so much larger, powerful, and more prowductive. Interestingly, when adjusted for inflation, the cost of tractors, windrowers, and forage harvesters is about $1,000 to $1,200 per hp, about the same in 2021 as it was in 1981. •

Table 1. Cost comparison of equipment in 1981 and 2021 Equipment

Prices for equipment in 1981 1981 Dollars

2021 Dollars

2021 Actual

Tractors 85 hp




190 hp





















Forage harvesters

Balers Small square




Large round




Large square




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by Mike Brouk

Uneaten forage is now more expensive


OW much feed is left behind in the feedbunk? Is it mostly forage? Is it 1 or 2 pounds per head? What did that forage cost? These questions demand consideration during a time when the market value of hay is at record levels. Feeding alfalfa at its current price might be adding 8.5 to 17 cents to the daily costs of feeding each cow in a dairy herd. If you are feeding 500 cows, and if this leftover feed is discarded, this could be costing your operation $1,275 to $2,550 each month. So, what can you do if the cows are not consuming all the forage in their ration? First, examine the refused feed. If it is mostly hay particles, look at their length. To stimulate rumination, particles only need to be 2 inches. Particles that are longer than this and left behind in the bunk are of little rumination value. Next, look at the width or coarseness of the hay particles. Are the particles something other than alfalfa? Other plant types may simply be unpalatable to the cows. If the alfalfa is contaminated with weeds or it has coarse stems, you may need to consider a different hay source. This might raise the cost of hay in the ration, but if the cows consume all of the particles, you can afford to spend a little more on purchased hay.

Using the example above, if you are feeding 10 pounds of alfalfa per head each day, you could spend $17 to $34 more per ton on your alfalfa and not raise your actual feed cost. If you are currently feeding 140 to 150 relative feed value (RFV) hay and discarding 1 to 2 pounds from the bunk, improving the hay quality may solve the issue. This could also boost milk production. If improving hay quality is not the answer, further processing will likely reduce the particle size to 2 inches. This could be accomplished by grinding the hay through a smaller screen. If you are currently using a screen with a 4-inch opening, reducing to a 3-inch opening would likely be a solution.

Check your mixer If you use your total mixed ration (TMR) mixer to process hay, it may be time to do some maintenance and replace worn knives. While replacing the knives, also look at the condition of the corners that move feed into the screw or reel. Many times, these parts are not replaced, and forage tends to remain in these areas rather than mixing into the load. Adjustment of these corners may also be necessary. Attention to the condition and setting of the corners is an important part of TMR mixer maintenance.

You may also need to extend the processing time for the hay. Sometimes adding as little as five additional minutes to the mixing time can significantly reduce hay particle size. In addition to checking the particle size of the forage, you might need to consider the overall dry matter of the TMR. Recent research has shown that reducing the dry matter of the TMR of lactating dairy cows to 45% resulted in higher intakes and milk production. This is wetter than past recommendations, but it is working on many farms. Adding water to the TMR only requires a little more time, and the water is inexpensive. With rising feed costs, many dairies have greatly reduced the amount of refused feed that is discarded or have utilized it for other animals. Feeding for a clean bunk is possible, but you will need to pay additional attention to hay quality and hay processing. Watch the feedbunk carefully or consider installing some game trail cameras along the bunk so that you can review what happens in the bunk over time. If the cows are sorting out longer pieces of hay, the bunk may be effectively empty for several hours each day while the animals consume the remaining pieces of hay. If this is the case, you are likely reducing the cows’ dry matter intake. Forcing animals to consume feed can be a costly practice. With lactating dairy cows, boosting feed intake by 1 pound generally results in 3 pounds of additional milk. If milk is worth $20 per hundredweight, this is a 60-cent daily opportunity for each cow in your herd. Yes, it will take a little more feed, but this is likely a 3-to-1 return on the investment. Forage costs will likely not decline over the next year, and with higher fuel and transportation costs, we may see feed prices rise. Make sure that animals are willing to consume the forage that is fed by directing additional attention to the quality and processing of your forage. •

MIKE BROUK The author is a professor and extension dairy specialist with Kansas State University.

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Photo Credit: APostersView

PUT YOUR FORAGES TO THE TEST Forage growers across the country are invited to participate in the 2022 World Forage Analysis Superbowl. Awardwinning samples will be displayed during Trade Show hours in the Trade Center at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, October 4 - 7. Winners will be announced during the Brevant seeds Forage Superbowl Luncheon on Wednesday, October 5. Contest rules and entry forms are available at foragesuperbowl.org, by calling Dairyland Laboratories at (920) 336-4521 or by contacting the sponsors listed below.

$26,000+ in cash prizes made possible by these generous sponsors:

Entries Due

Harvest Year


Crop/plant/sample specifications

August 25


Dairy Hay

>75% legume; grown by active dairy producers

August 25


Commercial Hay

>75% legume; commercially grown and sold in large lots off the farm

August 25


Grass Hay

August 25



August 25


Alfalfa Haylage

≥75% legume

August 25


Mix/Grass Hlg

<75% legume

July 8


Standard Corn Silage (non-BMR)

Must be whole plant, recommended chopping height 6”-8”. Must contain >75% standard variety.

July 8


BMR Corn Silage

Must be whole plant, recommended chopping height 6”-8”. Must contain >75% BMR variety.

All hay samples: Must be from a bale, any type or size; use of a preservative or desiccant is allowed.

>75% grass Any mixture of grass/legumes

Baleage: Must be processed and wrapped as baleage and show signs of fermentation. All silage samples: Must be ensiled in a normal preservation process and show signs of fermentation. Use of a preservative is allowed. Additives affecting fiber content or any other adulteration will disqualify the sample.

Samples analyzed for (expressed on a dry matter basis):

Hay, Baleage, Haylage: Dry matter, crude protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD), relative forage quality (RFQ) and milk per ton. [RFQ is a ranking of forage quality based on NDFD and should not be confused with or compared to Relative Feed Value (RFV).]

Corn Silage: Dry matter, crude protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD) and milk per ton.

World Forage Analysis Superbowl organizing partners: Dairyland Laboratories, Inc., Hay & Forage Grower, University of Wisconsin-Extension, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, World Dairy Expo

Untitled-4 1

4/8/22 4:13 PM


Beef benefits from alfalfa Hay & Forage Grower is featuring results of farmer-funded research projects through the Alfalfa Checkoff, officially named the U.S. Alfalfa Farmer Research Initiative, administered by National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA). GRADUAL movement toward beef production — by southern U.S. farmers transitioning from crops or dairy farming and others turning to country life — could spur additional on-farm alfalfa production and hay purchases, said Ray Smith, University of Kentucky (UK) Extension forage specialist. A change in mindset toward alfalfa is needed, he said. “People automatically think of alfalfa for dairy cows, and, in Kentucky at least, the common adage is, ‘Beef cows? Any old hay will do,’” Smith added. Hay cost, not hay quality, has RAY SMITH been the determinFunding: $9,464 ing factor when feeding beef cattle, particularly by small-operation producers. “The top beef producers know what quality is and the importance of ration balancing. But so many smaller beef cattle operators are either feeding based on tradition or are new to the market, maybe transitioning out of crop production or moving to the country and wanting some beef cows,” the specialist explained. “That average producer often isn’t thinking about forage quality.” To help shift their thinking, Smith and his colleagues completely revised a 30-year-old publication called Alfalfa for

Beef Cows using Alfalfa Checkoff funding. They added detailed information on alfalfa’s value as a homegrown protein and energy source that can also provide cattle needed vitamins and minerals. The specialists highlighted new research showing the nitrogen-fixing legume can be successfully interseeded into bermudagrass to extend stand life, boost forage production, and improve quality. It can be harvested as hay or baleage or be grazed. Adding alfalfa to the mix can extend the grazing season. If alfalfa is at least 30% of the stand, no supplemental nitrogen is required, even though bermudagrass and cool-season grasses need substantial nitrogen applications for top production. An alfalfa-grass mixture can improve forage intake, dietary nutritional value, and animal performance, according to the 12-page publication. It also cuts back on the amount of feed supplementation needed. The booklet recommends matching forage quality to animal class to ensure nutritional needs are met. Beef cows in early lactation, growing heifers, weaned calves, and low body condition adult animals — all with higher nutrient needs — thrive on alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mixes. Alfalfa can also be fed to young nursing calves through creep grazing or in creep pens to boost nutrient uptake and limit-fed to mature animals during winter for additional protein and energy. “Often, I get the comment, ‘I don’t

really need a high-quality hay because I’m just trying to maintain my animals,’” Smith said. “There are a number of ways you can limit-feed high-quality hay. Limit the amount of time they have access to it. Many people are unrolling the hay and calculating how much of the ration that’s going to be.

PROJECT RESULTS Completely revised the 1991 publication, Alfalfa for Beef Cows, offering detailed information on the value of the legume, best management practices, updated photographs, and recently published data.

Matching nutrient supply from three alfalfa quality levels to the needs of classes of beef cattle Alfalfa Quality1 Animal Requirement Class of Cattle

Calf, 500 to 700 lbs., 2 lbs. ADG

Dry matter intake, lbs.


Crude protein, lbs.


Low TDN, lbs.

18% CP, 57% TDN

Medium 21% CP, 61% TDN

High 24% CP, 64% TDN





Calf, 750 to 1,000 lbs., 2 lbs. ADG







Calf at finishing 3.5 lbs. ADG







Cow, Early lactation







Cow, Dry mid-gestation







Cow, Dry late gestation







Pluses and minuses indicate CP and TDN requirements are met or are deficient based on the assumed intakes listed in the table. For example, medium-quality alfalfa hay meets the CP needs of a 500- to 700-pound calf at 2 lbs./day gain, but not the energy requirements, therefore (+/-). Highlighted areas show where alfalfa meets both CP and energy needs. 1 Dairy One Forage Composition Library accessed 5/4/2021 with medium = average legume values, low = lower value for normal range and high = upper value for normal range.

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“Beef cattle don’t need nutrition maintained at high levels on a daily basis like dairy cows. They can be given a high protein through alfalfa one day and then reduced protein the next day,” he said. The publication includes information on alfalfa harvest management, summer and fall grazing, grazing throughout the growing season, and stand persistence. It also gives a concise list of agronomic strategies for producing alfalfa on beef

operations as well as resources that contain further information. Smith acknowledges the contributions and expertise of lead authors Jeff Lehmkuhler and Katie VanValin, UK Extension beef specialists, and gives special thanks to other authors, including UK’s Jimmy Henning and Chris Teutsch, extension forage specialists, and Krista Lea, extension research analyst. Jennifer Tucker, University




of Georgia Extension animal scientist, wrote the section on integrating alfalfa with bermudagrass. “This publication is telling producers around the country that they should consider a high-quality forage like alfalfa on some of their acres if they have the soil to grow it. When buying hay, look at the top-quality offerings. There’s a pretty good chance it will be alfalfa,” Smith said. •

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Corn Silage: From Seed to Feed

Every ration needs a strong foundation. This 80-page, perfect bound manual explains best practices and references for each stage of corn silage management. Five expert authors detail guidelines for:

• Production • Harvest • Storage • Feeding

Order Today! $24.95 plus S&H Available at: www.hoards.com/silage or call 920-563-5551. Hoard’s Dairyman Books P.O. Box 801 • Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 920-563-5551 • hdbooks@hoards.com

April/May 2022 | hayandforage.com | 15

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Mike Rankin


Move cattle, rest grass by Hugh Aljoe and Steve Smith


EGENERATIVE grazing is a set of practices, guided by ecological principles, that uses the benefits of grazing livestock to rebuild soil health and may also help diversify the enterprises and income a farm or ranch produces. In the second installment of this three-part series, we’ll get into the importance of resting grass and how to get started rotating cattle as a precursor to adaptive or regenerative grazing. One of the primary goals of regenerative grazing is giving plants the rest and recovery time they need following grazing, fire, or other disturbances. Plants need time and enough green tissue to be able to photosynthesize, which helps build energy reserves and grow their root systems as well as new leaves. Recovery time will differ depending on the time of year of the disturbance, being more rapid during favorable growing conditions and slower during dry or cold periods. In the dormant season, recovery is on hold until spring. Ideally, before grazing begins, allow all pastures or paddocks to attain “full-flush” conditions, so the plants, and particularly root systems, are strong for the growing season. Even as environmental conditions affect the recovery period, so does the severity of the graze, which is dictated by the amount of plant removed during grazing. The goal is maintaining plenty of plant residual, and that’s where the

“take half, leave half” rule of thumb comes in, allowing the herd to consume no more than half of the forage that is readily available. The reason we never want to graze more than half of a plant’s leaf area is that the root systems stop growing after being defoliated more than that; this slows recovery time. During the early growing season, the ideal is “top-grazing,” using only a third or less of the leaf material to attain the most rapid recovery of grazed plants. Concerning plant recovery with regenerative grazing, don’t turn cattle back in when the grass looks lush. Pastures need to fully regrow past full flush and become a bit mature. In the ideal regenerative system in the southern Great Plains, plan for recovery periods for perennial grasses of about 60 to 75-plus days during the active growing season (early spring and summer). In late summer and moving into fall, recovery periods of 90 days or longer, which may extend into the next growing season if growth was stopped by frost prior to full recovery.

Keep palatable plants In addition to managing the overall residual of growing plants, grazing each pasture or paddock for a short time is essential to keep the most palatable plant species healthy and plentiful. Livestock naturally want to consume the most palatable plants, so they will graze preferentially, especially

on fresh growth from the most desirable plants. The repeated regrazing of the same palatable plants prevents rest and recovery, and over time, most of the palatable and productive forage in the pasture will be lost. If livestock are regrazing plants within a pasture during a grazing event, grazing periods are too long. During the growing season in the southern Great Plains, most plants start to regrow after three to four days of being grazed. Ideally, with regenerative grazing, livestock need to be moved out of a grazed pasture within three to four days (preferably every one to two days) during the active growing period and five to six days during conditions of slower growth. Another reason to manage stocking rates (number of livestock grazing an area for a set amount of time) and grazing periods so that plants can fully mature during recovery is to grow enough organic matter to feed both the livestock and the organisms in the soil. In this “Phase 3” of the plant’s life, the livestock will seek out and graze the higher quality parts of the plant. The low-quality, top growth biomass that animals leave behind is trampled for other organisms at and below the soil surface to feed upon. The trampled residual matter contributes to rebuilding the organic matter in the soil over time.

Start small To let pastures rest, you’ll need a system of moving cattle from one area to the next. We encourage producers new to rotational grazing to start small, using existing pastures. When ready to try higher stock density grazing using electric fence, consider starting at a small scale to learn the new system. This means starting with one or two smaller pastures that are easily observed. At the end of a season, you’ll at least have an area on which you’ve implemented regenerative grazing techniques that can be applied later to additional acres. Begin by training the cattle to respect an electric fence, since you’ll likely be using temporary polywire electric fencing to separate grazing paddocks. Purchase a high-quality fence charger that will last, and consider adding a high tensile electrical wire offset fence to carry the electricity around the perimeter of a starter pasture where you and the cattle can learn about this new tool. Select a small pasture, and then put

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in a short length of test electric fence that runs out from the perimeter to separate the water source from the rest of the pasture so the animals have to learn to walk around the fence or almost into it to be able drink. Attach some flagging on the wire so they can see it, be curious, and walk up to it slowly. It’s temporary, so expect them to knock it down. Put it back up, and after a few days, they’ll build respect. Then, move that fence to a new location and see how they adjust to it. Once cattle know what the fence is for, use polywire to create a temporary grazing paddock with access to water and large enough for a few days of grazing. Take time to watch the cattle and observe the grass and its recovery. Be sure you’re grazing to the desired intensity, but not overgrazing. With time, livestock will soon learn that every move to a new paddock means something better to eat.

Don’t be late As we’ve transitioned the Noble Research Institute’s herds to adaptive

grazing, the cattle learned quickly and now readily follow us into a new paddock with fresh grass as soon as we grab the polywire reel or gate handle. It’s works far better than trying to push them! The more time spent with livestock, the more they will communicate to you when it’s time to move. If they begin to look at you, wanting to move, you’ll know either forage quantity or quality is limited. If they meet you at the gate, then it’s an indication that the move came too late. When you start small, and apply short grazing events followed by long recovery times, any “missteps” have only a temporary impact on the forage, livestock, and soil. The key is being observant and adjusting as you go. Be sure to keep good records about grazing and recovery times and how they differ with weather and season of year. What stocking rate and stock densities seemed to work best? What didn’t turn out as well as you thought it would? What did you learn? The notes you make the first year will be invalu-

able during future years. Once your livestock are somewhat accustomed to use of the electric fences and you are becoming comfortable with basic rotational grazing management, then it’s time to move into what we would call adaptive or regenerative grazing. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll go deeper into planning for and managing adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing and the option of using high stock density grazing when you have abundant quantities of forage. • HUGH ALJOE Hugh Aljoe (pictured) is the director of producer relations at Noble Research Institute (NRI), Ardmore, Okla. Steve Smith is a wildlife and fisheries consultant with NRI.

IN FUTURE ISSUES: Part 3: AMPing it up using high stock density grazing

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April/May 2022 | hayandforage.com | 17

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by Mike Rankin


VER the past 30 years, alfalfa has lost market share to corn silage in dairy cow diet formulations. Multiple reasons have been cited for this shift, including lower alfalfa yields, winterkill risk, feed variability, and high production expenses. At the same time the rapid move to corn silage has been occurring, growers and nutritionists still recognize that alfalfa has many positive agronomic, environmental, and feeding attributes.

A perfect pair “From a nutritional perspective, it would be hard for us to find two forages that are more complementary with each other than alfalfa and corn silage,” said Rick Grant while speaking at the Midwest Forage Association’s Symposium 2022 in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. The president of the Miner Research Institute in Chazy, N.Y., noted that the starch and its degradability in corn silage matches “so well”

with the amount of protein and the solubility of that protein in alfalfa. In continuing to contrast alfalfa and corn silage, Grant noted that the “Queen of Forages” has less neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and higher undigestible NDF (uNDF), but the rate of digestion is much faster than corn silage. Alfalfa’s fiber is more “fragile,” and it breaks apart into cuboidal particles that are easy to swallow and pass through the rumen. As a result, alfalfa proves to be less filling than grasses such as corn silage, allowing for higher dry matter (DM) intakes. “Alfalfa has great buffering attributes for the rumen,” Grant said. “It contains more sodium and potassium, has a higher dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD), and overall, we think that alfalfa may help to stabilize rumen pH and boost milkfat in higher corn silage rations.” Alfalfa is also a much better source of lysine, an essential amino acid, than corn silage. The dairy nutritionist noted that alfalfa’s value as a protein source is

Mike Rankin


certainly greater in these times of high soybean meal prices, but Grant also thinks there is the ongoing potential to optimize the interaction between the rumen degradable protein of alfalfa and the starch from corn silage to enhance microbial protein synthesis. However, he warned that other ration ingredients need to be formulated in such a way to capitalize on this synergy.

Is more alfalfa warranted? Grant and his research team decided there was a need to re-evaluate alfalfa inclusion in modern, high-producing dairy cow ration formulations that often have high concentrations of forage fiber. They wanted to determine if more alfalfa can successfully be fed in dairy rations and if there was a benefit in doing so. The feeding trial was completed in 2021 using 105 Holstein cows. Each treatment diet was formulated for 62% forage and the same predicted metabolizable protein, although in the end the higher alfalfa diets provided a little more metabolizable protein. Inclusion

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of alfalfa and corn silage were varied as follows: 1. 90% alfalfa, 10% corn silage 2. 70% alfalfa, 30% corn silage 3. 50% alfalfa, 50% corn silage 4. 30% alfalfa, 70% corn silage 5. 10% alfalfa, 90% corn silage The high-quality alfalfa was fed in a total mixed ration (TMR) as chopped large square bales. “We used hay instead of haylage because we could maintain a consistent diet more easily,” Grant explained. “From previous research, we know that the form of alfalfa doesn’t influence dry matter intake or fat-corrected milk, if the quality is the same.” For the higher alfalfa diets, some water was added to keep DM under 60% and to mitigate the fine particles from sorting out. The forage quality analysis of the alfalfa and corn silage is documented in Table 1 and the diet composition is presented in Table 2.

A middle optimum In evaluating the results, Grant said his first take-home message is that we can feed alfalfa over a large range of the forage fed and still get good DM intake, milk production, and production efficiency (Table 3). Drilling down a bit deeper, Grant said they didn’t measure any difference for milkfat, even though they expected to find one (Table 4). They did obtain differences for pounds of protein produced per day. “These weren’t big differences, but they were significant and would make a difference in the milk check,” Grant said. “It was the 30:70 and 50:50 diets (alfalfa to corn silage) that resulted in the most true protein output.” Grant also pointed out that it appeared rumen efficiency from a fiber fermentation standpoint was best for the 30% to 50% alfalfa diets based on their greater de novo fatty acid milkfat concentrations. Rumination time in minutes per day were all in acceptable ranges except for the 90% alfalfa diet, which was the only treatment below 400 minutes. “As with some past studies, this trial reinforced the idea that it’s probably best to stay away from the extremes for either corn silage or alfalfa and be somewhere in the middle,” Grant asserted. “From a nutritional standpoint, this makes sense.” Concluding, Grant said it’s apparent

significant agronomic benefits,” Grant said. “As we look to a sustainable future for dairy-forage systems, we can’t ignore these benefits. It might be time to start including higher levels of alfalfa in our rations, especially for those currently feeding extreme amounts of corn silage.” •

that high-producing cows can be fed high-quality alfalfa as 10% to 90% of the forage component and still maintain milk production and efficiency. He noted that the “sweet spot” seems to be 30% to 50% alfalfa if milk components and rumen function are to be optimized. “Alfalfa and perennial grasses have

Table 1. Alfalfa hay and corn silage nutrient concentrations Alfalfa hay

Corn silage



Dry matter Crude protein






30-h NDF digestibility, % of NDF









7-h starch digestibility, % of starch


Sugar (ESC)



Table 2. Ration nutrient concentrations at different alfalfa-to-corn silage ratios Alfalfa-to-corn silage ratio (DM basis) 10:90





DM, %






Crude protein


















Sugar (ESC)






Fat (EE)






Table 3. Dry matter intake and lactation performance of cows fed different ratios of alfalfa and corn silage Alfalfa-to-corn silage ratio (DM basis) 10:90





Dry matter intake, lbs./day






DMI, % of BW






Milk yield, lbs./day






ECM yield, lbs./day






ECM/DMI, lbs./lbs.






Table 4. Milk components of cows fed different ratios of alfalfa and corn silage Alfalfa-to-corn silage ratio (DM basis)

Fat, % Fat, lbs./day
















True protein, %






True protein, lbs./daya






MUN, mg/dL


De novo FA, g/100 g FAb a b











Significant cubic effect (P < 0.05). Significant quadratic effect (P < 0.05).

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“Rezilon® herbicide has been something that has come along and absolutely answered the need that we had.” Lee Reynolds Shorter, AL

Rezilon herbicide stops weeds before they start. Growing clean, high-quality hay can seem like a season-long battle against weeds. With Rezilon herbicide, you’ll see cleaner hay cutting after cutting. It stops weeds from germinating and stays active on the soil surface, giving you long-lasting weed control. And that means you can raise high-quality hay — and your reputation. Find out more at Rezilon.com ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Bayer EnvironmentalScience, a Division of Bayer CropScience LP, 5000 CentreGreen Way, Suite 400, Cary, NC 27513. For additional product information, call toll-free 1-800-331-2867. www.environmentalscience.bayer.us. Not all products are registered in all states. Bayer, the Bayer Cross and Rezilon® are registered trademarks of Bayer. ©2022 Bayer CropScience LP. VM-1021-REZ-0108-A-1


A simpler way to cleaner hay

Get small-seeded annual weed control through the residual action of Rezilon® herbicide THE SEARCH FOR HIGH-QUALITY HAY After struggling to find a local source of high-quality, weed-free hay for his horses, Lee Reynolds decided to try growing his own. Soon after, his neighbors saw his success and started asking to buy his hay. Reynolds says, “People in this area, they’re interested in a premium-quality product.”

FLEXIBLE APPLICATION FOR A SIMPLER SEASON Because Rezilon stays on the soil surface until it’s activated by rainfall, growers don’t have to worry as much about timing. That flexibility is something Reynolds didn’t see with other herbicides. “The timing was almost impossible to get perfect. And I don’t believe we got the results, even when we did get the water. Rezilon has been something that has come along and absolutely answered the need that we had,” he says.

When we first discovered Rezilon herbicide and used it for the first full season, it virtually eliminated our early grass and weed problems. Lee Reynolds // Shorter, AL

Over the last 15 years, Reynolds says he’s lost the battle with weeds and has been frustrated by the need to use different products throughout the season. He got mixed results and often ended up selling his hay for mulch or cattle feed.

A DIFFERENT WAY TO FIGHT WEEDS A few years ago, Reynolds learned about how Rezilon herbicide treats target species like crabgrass, ryegrass and sandbur before they germinate by using a preemergent mode of action. He was intrigued enough to sign up for a demonstration and was so impressed by what he saw that he decided to try it the first year it was available. The results spoke for themselves. He says, “When we first discovered Rezilon and used it for the first full season, it virtually eliminated our early grass and weed problems [and] made our first cutting a sellable product.” Reynolds also saw improved weed control throughout the season.

A PRODUCT THAT GETS THE JOB DONE Like many farmers, Reynolds can be skeptical when it comes to trying new products, but he’s sold on Rezilon. “I tried many products trying to have the clean hay and product that I wanted. When Rezilon came along, it essentially did that for me. I plan to continue using it this year. I’m spraying my entire acreage with Rezilon.”

Scan the QR code for more information, and find us online at Rezilon.com. ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Bayer EnvironmentalScience, a Division of Bayer CropScience LP, 5000 CentreGreen Way, Suite 400, Cary, NC 27513. For additional product information, call toll-free 1-800-331-2867. www.environmentalscience.bayer. us. Not all products are registered in all states. Bayer, the Bayer Cross and Rezilon® are registered trademarks of Bayer. ©2022 Bayer CropScience LP. VM-1021-REZ-0108-A-1



HE farm on Township Road 34 was originally bought and given to the great grandparents of Miles and Caleb von Stein as a wedding gift. Fortunately for the two brothers, toasters weren’t in vogue for such occasions back in the day. Miles and Caleb now comprise the fourth generation to farm this northwestern Ohio land that is tucked between the two small farming communities of Rawson and Jenera. Since the original wedding vows were taken, the farm has undergone several enterprise transformations. Miles and Caleb’s parents, Dennis and Monica, row cropped corn, soybeans, and winter wheat, raised hogs in partnership with a brother, had some sheep and cattle, grew a few acres of hay, and started a retail greenhouse operation in 1999.

The least of these enterprises — baling hay and straw — is what intrigued Miles and Caleb the most. “We couldn’t take income and acres away from our parents, so in 2010 we bought some windrowed wheat straw from neighbors and started baling,” Miles said. “We gradually added more straw acres while also attending college at night for agricultural mechanics.” These days, the brothers operate the farm with help from their parents, Miles’ wife, Melissa, and Caleb’s wife, Carlie. It consists of about 800 owned and rented acres. Miles and Caleb bale 155 acres of hay and 750 acres of straw each year. They also raise corn, soybeans, and winter wheat on the home farm and do some custom baling work. Some of their farm’s row crop acres are being converted to organic production, seeding down hay on those acres during the

All photos Mike Rankin

Miles and Caleb von Stein chose a path not often taken by young farmers — developing a successful small square bale business. The brothers currently bale hay from 155 acres and also bale 750 acres of wheat straw each year.

transition years. Poultry litter is used to maintain fertility. Although the future goal is to be on the farm full time, both Miles and Caleb still have off-farm income. The slightly older Miles has a seed business and drives a school bus while Caleb works four days on and four days off at a factory in nearby Findlay.

Keep it simple Over the past 10 years, Miles and Caleb have had to look for ways to make, store, and market small square bales efficiently and with mostly family labor. The brothers have strategically added equipment and infrastructure to streamline their system. Hay is cut with a Massey Ferguson 13-foot pull-type mower conditioner with steel conditioning rolls and an older 12-foot Case IH pull-type with a B&D roller conditioner. “Dry down

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is crucial for us with only short windows to get hay dry,” Caleb said. Miles added, “If the ground is wet, we’ll cut it into a narrow windrow, let the ground dry out, and then spread it out with a 10-basket Krone tedder the next day. Everything gets tedded at least once and most of it twice.” The brothers also use two rotary rakes to get the crop back into windrows. Baling is done with two Case IH small square balers. The bales come off the baler into a Norden (formerly Kuhns) Manufacturing 18-bale accumulator. The accumulated bales are then picked up with a skid steer and grapple and loaded onto specially built, 24-foot flatbed hay wagons that hold either 216 bales of hay or 252 bales of straw. They also have two smaller flatbed wagons. The wagons separate the von Steins from most other haymaking operations. They are built on used, heavy-duty silage box running gears. The wagon floors are made from 2.5-inch oak boards cut from trees in the farm’s woodlot. The wagons, along with a 30-foot gooseneck trailer and a 48-foot semitrailer, allow the brothers to get nearly 2,000 bales “on wheels,” which lets them keep baling without unloading. Bales are unloaded with a telehandler and grapple, then stored in several different flat barns, although some hay is sold directly from the field if the customer is located reasonably close by.

alfalfa-orchardgrass mix that consists of 30 pounds of oats, 20 pounds of coated alfalfa seed, and 8 pounds of a late-maturing orchardgrass variety.” The brothers have their own unique approach to seeding that entails four trips across a field. First, they use their grain drill to seed the oats. Then they use the drill to seed half of the alfalfa and orchardgrass seed; this is because the drill only has one box, and the oats must be seeded deeper than the alfalfa and orchardgrass. The next trip across the field is with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) broadcast seeder, spinning on the other half of the alfalfa and orchardgrass mix. Finally, the entire field is rolled with a cultipacker to achieve good seed-to-soil contact and a uniform stand. “We’ve had times where the drilled seed came up the best and other times when the broadcasted seed had better emergence,” Caleb said. “We know our rate is on the high side, but we can’t afford a stand failure or thin stand. We try to keep our stands for about five or six years, including the seeding year,” he added. The brothers cut and round bale the oats. If possible, they’re put up as dry hay, but they also have a bale wrapper that makes oatlage an option if there’s insufficient drying time available. continued on following page >>>

Fine for the equine Horse owners and businesses comprise most of the von Steins’ clientele. They also sell to a few dairy and beef operations. Straw is marketed to both horse owners for bedding and construction companies in need of mulch. Most customers are located within two hours of the farm and the brothers will deliver using a gooseneck trailer. For any out-of-state orders, truckers are hired. Recently, the von Steins built a loading dock to easily fill semitrailer vans. Most of the brothers’ customers are repeat orders from yearto-year. Some of their top-quality hay is also taken to the Mt. Hope hay auction that’s located a little over two hours from the farm. “It’s a good venue to meet and connect with people and gain new customers,” Miles said. “We also get top dollar for our hay there.” Most of the von Steins’ hay is sold by the bale. “That’s just what a majority of our customers are used to,” Miles said. “They don’t easily comprehend a per ton price. We shoot for 50-pound hay bales and 40-pound straw bales.” The brothers monitor a Facebook marketplace page to gauge hay market price movement up or down. The von Steins don’t test their hay for quality, as is often the case for haymakers who serve the horse market. “We bale for color and leaf retention because that’s what our customers look at,” Miles explained. Caleb added, “We feel like we’ve slowly grown at a manageable pace, not promising any more than we know we can deliver. Most of our marketing is by word of mouth, and almost every year we run out of hay and straw.”

Caleb (left) and Miles (right) von Stein have steadily grown their hay business over the past 10 years. Horse owners and businesses comprise the majority of their clientele.

Unique establishment approach The farm’s soils range from sand to clay, but alfalfa is only seeded on well-drained fields. “We prefer to seed in the spring using oats as a companion crop,” Miles said. “All of our seedings are comprised of an

The von Steins use specially built flatbed wagons to load bales on in the field. The wagon floors are comprised of 2.5-inch oak boards cut from trees in the farm’s woodlot.

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brothers may wrap anywhere from 200 to 800 bales, depending on the year.

Miles von Stein loads straw bales in the field using a skid steer and grapple. Each wagon holds 252 bales of straw.

After the oats are harvested, the brothers get one or two more cuttings of alfalfa. For established stands, four cuttings of alfalfa are harvested with the last one around mid-September. Like many commercial haymakers, von Steins also have some beef cattle

Moving forward

that can be used as an outlet to feed the oat hay or other low-quality hay that is less marketable. In addition, the von Steins frost seed red clover into winter wheat in the spring. They are sometimes able to cut and make baleage from the clover later in the year. The

When given the choice between row cropping and making hay into small square bales, most of the younger generation would choose the former. Such was not the case for the von Stein brothers. For Miles and Caleb, making hay is a passion. This is likely why the brothers were winners of the 2021 American Forage and Grassland Council’s Forage Spokesperson’s Contest as representatives of Ohio. “We’re not planning to get bigger in the immediate future,” Miles said. “Haymaking is a good way to start farming, especially with small square bales and the premium price they bring. Also, equipment is relatively cheap, and you can utilize small barns. We’re in a good place right now,” he concluded. The von Stein brothers will no doubt be making hay for many years to come. Their oak-board flatbed wagons may be around for generations. •

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by Adam Verner

If equipped with a cam-type pickup, checking the cam roller bearing is a difficult task, but lying on your shop floor is much more pleasant than lying on stubble and/or fire ants while working in 95°F heat.

Keep belts snug

Don’t bail on baler maintenance


REVENTIVE equipment maintenance is a frame of mind that can go a long way in impacting the year’s bottom line. For many of our customers, their round baler is the primary forage harvesting machine. As the baler goes, so goes the entire operation. With that in mind, I want to offer a short checklist of some items that need to be reviewed on your baler before the first bale rolls out the back end. The most logical place to start is at the front hitch. Make sure to look at all of the bolts or welds and ensure they are not loose or cracked. The baler hitch can take a lot of abuse. The same is true for the power take-off (PTO) shaft. These days, most balers come with a constant velocity (CV) shaft. It is critical to remove all of the shielding at least once a year to inspect the joint for wear and to make sure grease fittings are in place and will accept grease. The PTO shaft also needs to be pulled completely out and properly lubricated. This is important so that the shaft doesn’t bind and apply pressure to the main baler gearbox or the tractor’s PTO during a turn. Either of those are costly repairs when compared to simply greasing a PTO shaft. Next, most commercial balers have

some sort of clutch on the PTO and, depending on the clutch manufacturer, instructions for inspecting and adjusting the clutch to ensure they slip when needed. Some manufacturers have YouTube videos explaining the process for their specific clutch. The main T-shaped gearbox is often overlooked, and a preseason inspection is a good time to check the oil level and seals for leaks. Each manufacturer has a similar way of supplying power to the baler, but there are small differences. Chain and sprocket wear is critical to a baler’s performance. A loose chain or worn sprocket can cause the pickup mechanism to slip or the main drive roller to jump. A lot of newer balers have idler sprockets that are tensioned by springs. In the baler’s operator’s manual, there will be a measurement for the length of these springs so that each chain operates with the proper tension and can “give” under heavy load pressures. You may need to replace the chain or remove a link to achieve proper tension on the chain. Doing these things will lengthen the life of the sprockets. The pickup is where the crop enters the baler, and it demands attention. Check the tines and stripper bands for excessive wear or broken teeth.

Another critical part of the baler is the belts. If your baler uses belt lacing, it is a good practice to pull out the belts and re-lace them every 10,000 bales or so. After the belts stretch, they can’t apply the same pressure as when they are at the correct factory measurements. A lot of balers now have different length belts, and if they are extremely worn, you can convert the long belts to shorter ones. A majority of the new balers apply net wrap to bind bales, using rubber rollers to feed the net to the bale. Inspecting the rubber roller is critical to make sure there are no rough places or cuts on the roller that could cause the net to grab. In the case of the rear-mounted net wrap balers, the net feeds under the tailgate. There is a plate on each tailgate to hold the net to the belts, and this is designed to be a wear item and needs to be checked. It’s usually in the corners where the wear occurs, and the corners are good places for the net to hang up. The bearings in the bale chamber seem to cause the most angst among round baler owners. Now is the time to check them, not when smoke is coming out of the top of the chamber. Relieve the pressure on the belts in the chamber so that you can get in the bale chamber to check each of the rollers for any excessive movement. I also encourage my customers to relieve the pressure on the belts during the off-season, especially on older balers. This cuts down on the odds of a bearing getting a flat spot due to constant pressure over the winter months. A bale chamber that is empty and closed is when the belts and bearings have the greatest pressure on them. Good luck this year and safe baling! •

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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Marcelo Wallau

Keep pastures productive in good times and bad by Marcelo Wallau and Mark Mauldin


HE dramatic price rise in farm inputs such as fertilizer, fuel, herbicide, and commodity-based feed has been a recurrent theme of recent conversations with producers and extension colleagues. While calf prices have been strong, they won’t offset higher input costs. Producers will need to carefully evaluate where cutting costs makes good economic sense and where it doesn’t. While short-term logic may appear sound, neglecting necessary inputs will reduce pasture productivity and, over time, lead to pasture degradation. Resiliency and the capacity to adapt are always essential when working with natural systems. It is in times of hardship we need to be better farmers, find ways to improve efficiency and creative solutions, and overcome financial barriers. Pasture systems are intrinsically resilient. It is amazing how much abuse some pastures can take and still bounce back. Most problems associated with perennial pasture degradation come from multiple years of overgrazing and the lack of adequate fertilization. This long-term neglect negatively affects productivity in the short run, and ultimately, if not corrected, will result in a situation that necessitates complete pasture renovation – a lengthy and costly undertaking. The following are some pasture and livestock management points to consider while devising strategies to overcome

the challenges of the current year, with minimal impact on pasture and animal productivity. The following comments were compiled based on warm-season perennial pastures in the Southeastern region of the United States, but most of these points can be applied to other types of forage systems in different regions.

Less intense, but more often Implementing rotational grazing can improve pasture productivity and animal output by about 30%. This, however, does not fix overstocking and other mismanagement issues. It is important to first consider the carrying capacity of the pasture, adjust the stocking rate accordingly, and then implement a rotational grazing system. Targeting stubble height at about a 40% biomass removal and providing an adequate grazing interval will ensure the best balance between forage production and quality. In contrast, boosting grazing intensity to more than 50% biomass removal with long regrowth intervals can reduce pasture productivity, nutritive value, and animal performance. It may sound counterintuitive to some, but grazing pastures less intensely and more frequently is a better option in terms of forage production and animal performance than harder grazing followed by a longer rest period.

Fertility trade-offs More than ever, people have been asking how they should approach pasture

fertility with current fertilizer prices. Fertilization strategies used for annual forages and those used for perennial forages follow two distinct approaches. Also, fertility management for hay production is quite different than it is for grazing. Annual pastures generally have higher nutrient requirements and are very responsive to fertilization. They also normally have higher forage nutritive value but shorter growing seasons. In normal years, having about 20% to 30% of a farm dedicated to annual pastures is desirable to fill the gaps in perennial forage production and provide excellent quality feed. While there is considerable expense associated with establishing annual forages, they might still be a better option than feeding hay and supplement alone. In perennial pastures, fertilization strategies follow a multi-year approach and depend on species and use. High-production forages such as bermudagrass or orchardgrass, for example, will require more nutrients than bahiagrass or tall fescue. Also, while nitrogen will limit production during the current season, continuous lack of potassium, for example, can lead to pasture decline in the long term. In fact, low potassium nutrition is one of the main factors resulting in perennial pasture decline, especially for hayfields where extraction of nutrients is greater. Hay production removes a high percentage of nutrients, while grazing recycles about 80% of removed nutrients. In well-maintained pastures, where phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil are medium to high, focusing on nitrogen fertilization this year might be the best alternative, without major negative impact to pasture persistence. Fertilization application decisions should always be based on soil nutrient levels. Alternative sources of nutrients might be an option, but a shortage of by-products or waste products will likely be an issue this year. When considering biological and organic nutrient forms, be aware of mineralization rates and the delayed availability of those nutrients. An approach frequently discussed in times of high fertilizer prices involves only applying lime to pastures with no additional nutrients. Lime applications can be effective when soil pH is low and base saturation is dominated by toxic aluminum; however, lime is not a fertilizer. Rather, it makes most nutrients more available in the soil. This effect is only seen when the pH is low. If the soil

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pH is adequate, there is little advantage to liming, and it simply becomes an unneeded expense. When high fertilizer prices limit the total amount of nutrients that can be purchased, it’s generally better to target the areas that will be most responsive (lowest fertility) than to apply reduced rates across a larger area. Additionally, try to focus fertilizer applications on those forage species that are the most responsive to high fertility. If you decide not to fertilize this year, consider what long-term effects that lower fertility will have. Be aware of overgrazing – cutting back on fertilization and maintaining the same herd size will likely lead to a negative forage budget and result in problems during future years.

A valuable nitrogen source Diversifying pasture systems is one of the best strategies to improve resilience and reduce the cost of production. Legumes add nitrogen to the system through biological nitrogen fixation, improve animal performance, and enhance soil quality. Seeding legumes, however, is not an immediate solution and must be planned as a part of a long-term strategy. Perennial legumes mixed with grasses (for example, bahiagrass and perennial peanut or bermudagrass and alfalfa) take time to establish, and the legume will only transfer nitrogen to the grass crop after a period of time. Nitrogen fixation is an expensive process for the plant, and legumes don’t just “give” nitrogen to the grasses – it is transferred via mechanisms such as root exudates and tissue turnover, which depend on decomposition and mineralization of organic matter. Annual legumes preceding a grass crop, or even interseeded into perennial pastures, can add nitrogen to the system as well, but this, too, takes time and is not a quick fix. When considering planting legumes, a neutral soil pH (close to 7) and high phosphorus and potassium fertility are necessary.

Other key strategies Weed control: Given current chemical prices, this might not be the year to declare an all-out war on weeds, but it is still important to be cognizant of developing weed pressures in your pastures. Weed management goes hand-in-hand with the concepts of forage budgeting to avoid overgrazing and

fertilizing to keep a healthy pasture. Weeds are frequently not the problem per se, but a symptom of mismanagement. Discontinuing weed management altogether is probably not wise as weed problems tend to get worse over time when left untreated. There are still some economically viable herbicide options available. Mowing will seldom be a cheaper strategy, especially with higher fuel costs. Cull hard: Reducing inventory now can be a good strategy to lower forage and feed demand and improve cash flow. Having a defined breeding/calving season allows for easy identification of less productive animals. Open cows or even late-calving cows, which are more likely not to breed back before the end of the breeding season, are good candidates for culling. Cull cattle prices tend to peak between March and May. Consider taking advantage of that opportunity to market your least productive animals. Keeping only the animals that are the most productive in your system will enhance the overall efficiency of your operation. Keep the best replacements: Not retaining any replacement heifers could be a way to manage costs but may have negative long-term consequences on herd genetic improvement and will boost the average herd age. A wiser approach would be to keep only the best heifers that have the highest likelihood of reproductive success. If, based on breed type, it is possible to breed heifers younger, the opportunity to remove heifers who are less likely to become pregnant occurs sooner, freeing up forage and feed resources. Tighten the calving season: Different animal categories and/or those at different stages in the production cycle (bred, open, lactating, and so forth) have varying nutritional requirements. The inability to effectively allocate feed and forage resources is one of the major negatives associated with a year-round breeding season. Shortening the breeding and calving seasons can greatly improve your capacity to manage herd nutrition more judiciously without sacrificing productivity. Having a herd with a short calving season also provides for a more uniform calf crop, which is more desirable from a marketing standpoint. Have a supplementation plan: The main idea behind reducing inventory and improving the uniformity of nutri-

tional needs is to better balance forage production and demand. Appropriate stocking rates help ensure adequate forage allowance and optimize pasture growth. Overgrazing is at the root of most pasture problems, causing degradation, reducing productivity, and delaying peak growth. Grazing harder can actually lead to more feeding, not less. Reviewing a ranch’s carrying capacity and reanalyzing the forage budget can show when or if you are likely to have a forage shortage and to what extent. Knowing this in advance can help with planning an efficient supplementation strategy. It is also important to match the herd’s highest nutrient demand to when pastures have the best quality. This improves animal productivity and can further reduce the cost of supplementation. Hay can be a substantial portion of the supplementation strategy. Unfortunately, hay is notoriously inconsistent in terms of nutritional value. Having a forage analysis performed on your hay allows for any nutritional short comings to be addressed precisely and before problems arise. Unfortunately, there is no single recipe or silver bullet to address the current high input cost situation. Some of the ideas discussed here are intended to highlight key concepts and get you thinking about how to best apply them to your specific production system. Immediate pasture management decisions can have a long-term impact. In some cases, it may be best to reduce profits in one year to avoid a loss of productivity and larger profit losses for years to come. In other cases, it might be fine to step back and trim inputs for a year to reduce the cost of production temporarily. The important message is to think ahead and plan so you know what to expect. Sharpen the pencil and analyze the options. There has never been a better time to determine your actual cost of production. If you need help analyzing different alternatives, contact a local extension agent or other trusted adviser and discuss the possibilities. • MARCELO WALLAU Both authors are affiliated with the University of Florida. Wallau (pictured) is an extension forage specialist. Mauldin is an extension agent in Washington County.

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used in this trial, native warm-season grasses provided adequate forage quantity to fill the summer production season with minimal fertility inputs. Conducting an annual stand persistence check at emergence and periodic soil tests are important to ensure stand longevity. Success of native warm-season grass management under reduced fertility inputs may provide an alternative forage system for livestock operators.

Cut nitrogen with native warm-season grasses by Kim Mullenix and Landon Marks


ATIVE warm-season grasses are bunch grasses that are indigenous and well-adapted to North America. These species can be used as a part of forage production systems and are most productive during the warmer months of the year, typically from April through mid-September in the southeastern U.S. Desirable characteristics of native warm-season grasses include their high forage yield potential, moderate nutritional value for livestock, drought resilience, and ecosystem services such as wildlife habitat and aesthetic value in conservation landscapes. A timely and sometimes unmentioned characteristic of native grasses is their ability to produce good yields with reduced nitrogen inputs, although native grasses will respond with additional yield to nitrogen fertilizer. In a recent three-year study in Alabama, a mixture of big bluestem, little bluestem, and indiangrass was managed under continuous grazing as a system for developing beef replacement heifers. The mixture either received 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre following spring emergence or no nitrogen during the season. Based on soil test information at the beginning of the study, no additional potassium or phosphorus amendments were needed during each year of the trial. Beef heifers were placed on nativegrass pastures at the time of weaning

and had an average weight of 625 pounds at the beginning of the grazing season. Pastures were grazed when native warm-season grasses reached a target height of 20 inches, which typically occurred in mid-May to early June. Over the three-year evaluation, there were no differences in seasonal forage production in this mixture when receiving a low amount of nitrogen fertility or no nitrogen at spring emergence. Average forage mass during the grazing season was 2,970 pounds of dry matter per acre across the two nitrogen fertility strategies. Beef heifer performance was 1.1 pounds per day of gain, with an average stocking rate of 855 pounds of animal body weight per acre. Heifer average daily gain on other warm-season perennial grasses adapted to the Southeast are often 1 to 1.5 pounds per day. If additional gain is needed to meet animal performance goals prior to breeding, feed supplementation on pasture can be used to improve gains, especially late in the grazing season when forage quantity and quality begin to decline. The grazing season length in each year was about 75 days. We conducted plant density and stand persistence measures in this trial to determine if stand health was maintained or declined as a result of our nitrogen management strategy. There was no change in the native grass stand plant density during this study for either nitrogen fertility strategy. In the moderate stocking rates

Kim Mullenix

Establishment headwinds Given all of these benefits, why are native warm-season grasses not more widely prevalent in the Southeast? Establishment of native grasses is slow and requires mindful, prior planning to be successful. Identifying a relatively grass- and weed-free area prior to establishment is needed to reduce competition during the establishment period. There are also relatively few herbicides that can be used to control competition during this specific time frame. Native grasses exhibit a strong level of dormancy, which means they are slow to emerge and establish. However, once these forages have a foothold, their production potential is set in progression. Some other reasons why native grasses are not more widely used may be because they require more attention to grazing management than some of our other more commonly used perennial grasses. Native grasses in the present study were grazed to a target height of 15 inches. That is vastly different than grazing to a 3- to 4-inch residual height for other warm-season perennial grasses. There is an increasing body of work to demonstrate the effectiveness of rotational grazing of native warm-season grasses in the Southeast and to identify practices for continuous stocking to keep forage yield and quality in check. With continued work to refine our grazing recommendations, this may promote greater use of this system in the region. •

For more information, download “Establishing native grass forages in the Southeast” at bit.ly/HFG-NWSG. KIM MULLENIX AND LANDON MARKS Mullenix (pictured) is an extension beef specialist and Marks is an animal science and forage regional extension agent. Both are with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

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by John Goeser

The sweet forage component S THE weather trends hotter, cold and sweet treats become more appealing. My two kids, aged 7 and 8 years old, have inherited my late father’s sweet tooth. My dad was known for being able to dive into donuts, bakery, or ice cream at any time of the day, including before meals! My kids don’t let me ignore the ice cream shop when it reopens with its bright neon lights and signage. Ice cream is a draw for my kids. I’m proud that they love their dairy foods, but the sugar, chocolate, and sprinkles act as sensory ignition, which sometimes equate to tantrums when we drive past the ice cream parlor without stopping. High-quality forage for dairy and beef cattle can be like ice cream for my kids. For exceptionally well-managed forage, a higher sugar level will be appealing to animals and draw them to the feedbunk. Our goal in forage production should be to optimize sugar content that will encourage dry matter intake. However, benchmarking sugar content when making management or variety changes can prove challenging. Sugar is a crude nutritional term that can better be defined as glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, and fructose, among other compounds. Sucrose and fructose are the primary plant sugars, with fructose being the major sugar in most forages and corn. Sucrose is found in sugar beets and sugarcane, and the appetizing table sugar is primarily sucrose. However, fructose is also sweet, and cattle seem to love forages rich with fructose. Forage and feed analysis laboratories have employed numerous techniques to quantify sugar — from crude sugar measures to very precise sugar compound identification. The crude sugar measures involve extracting sugar-like compounds with either ethanol or water, dyeing the solution with a certain chemical that reacts with sugar-like compounds, and then comparing the colorimetric intensity of the unknown solution with known standards. The more sugar in the solution, the greater the color intensity. I’ve explained the method because it’s almost too simple; however, both etha-

Table 1: Hay, haylage, and baleage sugar content as a percent of dry matter1 Forage type

15th %2


85th %2

St. dev.3

Alfalfa hay





Alfalfa haylage





Dry baleage





Wet baleage





Grass hay





Grass haylage





Alfalfa and grass samples analyzed by Rock River Laboratory from across the U.S. since 2018. Over 220,000 samples are summarized by this table. Value at the 15th or 85th percentile of samples 3 Standard deviation 1


nol and water have been used over the past two decades and the results are substantially different. Water extracts more sugar than does ethanol. The ruminant nutrition world has shifted to using water-soluble carbohydrate (sugarWSC) measures to estimate the true sugar content in forages and feeds. In the future, forage and feed analysis will fully transition to more precise and accurate sugar measures, just like the techniques we employ for measuring fermentation compounds such as lactic acid, butyric acid, and other fermentation acids or alcohols. In the meantime, we’ll focus on sugarWSC as the sweetness indicator for different forage types to visualize differences.

Hay and haylage differ Both alfalfa and grass hay and haylages are substantially different in sugar concentration. The difference visible in Table 1 is primarily due to the fact that fermenting bacteria consume sugar during the ensiling process. The offset to the lower sugar level are fermentation acids that cure the forage and preserve it for months and years to come at higher moisture concentrations. Grass also tends to have a higher sugar content than alfalfa, and this is more apparent for grass haylage relative to alfalfa haylage (Table 1). This difference is likely due to the inherent difference in sugar content with forage grasses relative to alfalfa, and not preservation effects. Hybridizing haylage and hay, baleage is a unique feed that cattle tend to crave when harvested and stored

correctly. Part of the reason this feed is sought out in the ration is the high sugar content relative to haylage (Table 1). In fact, sugar content in baleage looks more like hay than it does haylage. The greater sugar content with baleage is more apparent with drier wrapped hay that doesn’t go through a fermentation, which some call “sweet hay.” For wetter, fermented baleage, we still observe a greater sugar content than haylage, which could be attributed to a less efficient fermentation and retaining a bit more sugar through stabilizing the forage. If your farm is considering different storage options for your alfalfa or grass, and sugar is of interest, hay and baleage clearly show an advantage in sugar content. In closing, ensure your management program considers the sugar content of your forages and use the right sugar measurement when benchmarking. High-sugar forages for dairy and beef cattle can be like ice cream to children. The sugar content in each of these is the driving factor toward exceptional palatability and taste, and pushing for higher forage consumption can dramatically improve your bottom line. • JOHN GOESER The author is the director of nutrition research and innovation with Rock River Lab Inc, and adjunct assistant professor, University of WisconsinMadison’s Dairy Science Department.

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Roots may hold key to better alfalfa yields


T’S been well-documented that alfalfa yields have not improved at the rates seen in other agronomic crops over the past 50 years. It’s not that alfalfa varieties haven’t gotten better — they have — but realized yields have just been slow to trend higher. The extensive list of reasons for this lack of yield improvement have been long debated, and I don’t plan to rehash them here other than to say alfalfa is a perennial, so pushing yield gains is a tougher row to hoe compared to annuals. To keep things positive, genomics and the identification of “yield genes” look to hold promise for measurable alfalfa productivity improvements. Genes that impart stress tolerance will do the same. Recently, another potential key to yield improvement has been reported by USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists based at the University of Minnesota, and this yield-impacting trait has been right beneath our feet for generations. Deborah Samac, a USDA-ARS research leader and adjunct professor, says that most of the alfalfa plant is found underground, with roots growing as much as 5 feet per year and reaching up to 30-feet deep. “Improving root system architecture can have a profound impact on plant productivity,” wrote Samac in the Midwest Forage Association’s Forage Focus newsletter. “For example, combined field and simulation analyses concluded that changes in root architecture were a primary driver of the nearly eightfold increase in U.S. corn yields since the 1930s.” Root architecture likely plays a significant role in alfalfa productivity. Roots have the potential to impact nitrogen fixation, nutrient uptake, water-use efficiency, plant heaving from frost, winterhardiness, and pest tolerance. However, Samac noted that we don’t know much about how the genes that control root development impact other plant traits.

It isn’t easy Alfalfa root architecture can be categorized into four distinct classes:

taprooted, branch-rooted, rhizomatous, and creeping-rooted. Most modern alfalfa varieties are taprooted. Alfalfa root studies are tedious and not common for an obvious reason — they’ve historically required the need for a close relationship with a shovel. Recently, new techniques that generate digital root images have been developed that hasten data collection and result in fewer hand blisters. Samac and her team followed alfalfa root growth during the establishment year and discovered that more than half of all the fine roots in the upper 10 inches of soil were produced during the first seven weeks of growth. They documented 8.5 miles of roots per square yard of soil, and by the end of the season, nearly half of the uppermost roots had died. “We estimated this amount of root turnover released 740 pounds of carbon and 54 pounds of nitrogen per acre,” Samac wrote. To develop alfalfa germplasms with distinct root characteristics, plants were grown in the field for 20 to 22 weeks and then dug up to determine their individual root traits. These plants were from a parent germplasm — a mix of 1990-era varieties — with known beneficial agronomic traits. The dug plants were separated into highand low-fibrous plants. Next, the alfalfa plants were intercrossed to form high-fibrous and low-fibrous populations, and then sorted as being either taprooted or branch-rooted.

What’s the reason? Samac believes there could be several explanations for the higher yields with the branch-rooted plants. The researchers found that these plants had more nodules than those with taproots. This could mean greater nitrogen fixation. It also could be that branch rooting allows the plants access to more soil nutrients. There are still many questions to answer regarding the architecture of alfalfa roots. Samac said it could be that taprooted plants may hold the advantage in terms of carbohydrate storage for winter survival or be more resilient in drought conditions. Conversely, branch-rooted plants may give plants an advantage in wet soils where gas exchange is important. A new technique to assess root architecture early in plant development offers the promise of speeding selections and evaluation. Future research should help discern some of the questions that still exist and, hopefully, translate to improved alfalfa yields in production fields. •

First production year yield by root type Dry matter yield (tons/acre)

by Mike Rankin

These populations were then evaluated over two-years (establishment year plus first production year). The forage yield for plants selected for fibrous and branched roots was 7% to 14% greater in the establishment year and 9% to 16% greater in the first production than the taprooted alfalfa (see graph below). “This suggested that the selection of altered root morphology is a viable strategy for enhancing alfalfa yield,” Samac noted. “The root architecture was also found to be stable in different soil types and with variable phosphorus and potassium levels.”

12 10 8 6 4 2 0 HF (cycle 2) HF (cycle 2) HF (cycle1) Branch Tap


HF = high fibrous

LF (cycle 1) LF (cycle 2) LF (cycle 2) Branch Tap

LF = low fibrous

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by Beth Reynolds and Denise Schwab

Supplementation may be needed this spring there is individual variation, most cows will graze for seven to 12 hours per day, taking roughly 30,000 bites of forage. They then ruminate for six to eight hours per day. For shorter forage, cows will take more bites, but there is an upper limit to what the cow will consume on short pastures. Determine the limiting nutrient: To get the most return out of any feed supplement, you need to identify the limiting nutrient. Early spring pasture is rightfully described as rapidly

Mike Rankin


ROUGHT has had a large impact on feed inventories and prices, causing many operations to assess and reduce feed costs. Although it’s good to keep feed costs in check, extra pressure on the feed bill often results in fewer nutrients fed leading up to calving, during postpartum recovery and as estrous resumes. Further, the breeding season kicks off with rapidly changing spring grass as the forage base coupled with peak nutritional demands as cows lactate to provide for their calves. To achieve and maintain pregnancy, a cow must have adequate nutrients available. Ideally, you record body condition score at calving and have an understanding on the nutritional plan leading up to and following calving. A female’s body condition score at calving is correlated to multiple production measures, including the likelihood the cow will conceive during the following breeding season. For females that are under conditioned at calving, providing a positive plane of nutrition and increasing body weight leading into the breeding season is a proven strategy to get more females bred. Considering the two points above, a supplementation program while cows transition onto spring grass and prepare for the breeding season may be warranted, particularly this year. There are a few basic rules and considerations when deciding on an effective supplementation program. Evaluate pasture growth and forage availability: Two factors come into play — the amount of available forage and the cows’ ability to consume it. For cows to get adequate intake, forage must be tall enough for the cow to wrap her tongue around, bring it into the mouth, and shear it off with the lower teeth. Unlike sheep and horses, cows cannot nibble on short forages close to the ground. This is one reason we often suggest delaying pasture turnout until the forage is at least 6- to 8-inches tall. Second, daily intake is limited by the number of bites taken per day. While

A high-magnesium mineral is needed for cattle on early spring pastures to help avoid grass tetany.

growing, high-moisture forage. Spring pasture growth is when peak protein content is reached. This is a highly degradable, very digestible protein. That, along with more water in the diet, results in a high passage rate that boosts the rumen microbe population’s energy demand, and ultimately, energy is often the limiting nutrient in early spring pastures, assuming adequate forage availability. Source and price supplement options: Compare the price of different supplements available based on price per unit of nutrient (energy or protein). First, identify supplement options that can be sourced, stored, and fed in your operation. Next, take the total delivered cost per pound of a supplement and adjust based on the dry matter content and then the nutrient content using the base diet’s limiting nutrient. For early spring pasture, this is typically energy, most commonly measured as total digestible nutrients (TDN). While the least cost per unit of

supplement is important, also consider ease of storage and feeding, access to the feedstuff, and handling benefits when selecting supplements. Evaluate the type of supplement and expected response: One thing to remember when supplementing energy is that not all feedstuffs act and digest in the rumen the same. The type of feed and amount fed need to be considered. When fed at greater than 1% of body weight, some forage intake can be displaced, but the response will be more apparent with a grain-based supplement rather than a digestible fiber such as soybean hulls and gluten feed. Starchbased supplements are best fed daily due to how they act in the rumen. A benefit of fiber-based supplements is the option to supplement every other day. Provide adequate mineral supplementation: Minerals are required for immune status, reproduction, and growth, so provide adequate minerals based on the forage available. High-magnesium minerals are important for early spring pastures to reduce the risk of grass tetany, and blended or chelated minerals are beneficial during the prebreeding period. Consider adding an ionophore. Data shows that including an ionophore will reduce the postpartum interval by an average of 18 days. By shortening the postpartum interval, females cycle earlier and are more likely to breed. Additionally, when bred earlier in the season, the resulting calf will be older, heavier, and more valuable at weaning. Monensin is the only approved ionophore for breeding stock, and there is no free-choice label, meaning it has to be delivered through a daily ration or supplement. Nutrition of the cow from calving through breeding season is critical for both the health of the cow, milk available for the growing calf, and the ability to rebreed. Don’t simply turn cows out on spring pasture and hope for the best. Planning now will benefit the long-term success of your cow herd. •

BETH REYNOLDS Reynolds (pictured) is an extension beef program specialist with Iowa State University (ISU). Schwab is an extension beef specialist with ISU.

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All photos Sandya Kesoju

FERAL ALFALFA POPULATIONS ARE SUSTAINING AND GROWING by Sandya Kesoju and Selena Burke DECADE ago, genetically modified (GM) alfalfa was commercialized. The occurrence of feral alfalfa populations along roadsides and in natural habitats is widely recognized. These populations can act as a reservoir for GM transgenes and aid in gene movement into the environment. Understanding gene flow from GM crops into neighboring fields is crucial since it can cause severe consequences if crop production is intended for markets with strict thresholds for gene detection. The knowledge gained through the study of transgenes in free-living populations can assist companies and regulators in making more accurate predictions about the potentially detrimental effects of GM crops before release. To understand the role that feral roadside alfalfa plants play in dispersing transgenes, our team surveyed feral alfalfa populations in Fresno County,

Calif.; Canyon County, Idaho; and Walla Walla County, Wash., and found 32.7%, 8.3%, and 21.4% of the populations, respectively, contained the transgene in 2011 and 2012. Since our survey was conducted just after the second deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa, most of the transgene introgression probably occurred during the first deregulation. In 2018 and 2019, Selena Burke, a master’s degree student at the University of California-Riverside, resurveyed the same regions to determine if feral alfalfa populations were perpetuating and if GM populations had changed compared to 2011 and 2012. Though feral populations were not found at all the previous sites, new sites were identified.

Self-sustaining populations The results showed that 47%, 44%, and 41% of sites previously found to contain feral alfalfa still had these populations in Fresno, Canyon, and Walla Walla counties, respectively, sug-

gesting that alfalfa populations were self-sustaining. We found a significant rise in GM feral populations in 2019 compared to 2011 for all three regions. GM feral populations rose from 42% to 78.6%; 17.9% to 49%; 7.8% to 34.8% in Fresno, Canyon, and Walla Walla counties, respectively. In addition to locating new sites that tested positive, a portion of the higher frequency was due to previously negative sites now having plants with transgenes. In Fresno County, 65.8% of previously negative sites tested positive for the presence of transgenes. In Canyon and Walla Walla counties, 36% and 30.6% of previously negative sites tested positive for the transgene. There might be selection pressure or enhanced plant fitness for the GM plants, but we didn’t have enough data to confirm this.

Transgenes spread Gene flow is a common phenomenon in alfalfa because it is a cross-polli-

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nated crop and depends on insects. To determine whether pollen-mediated gene flow has contributed to the surge in GM feral populations, seeds from negative plants (non-GM plants) at negative sites were tested. One out of 30 and four out of 24 negative plants tested positive for the GM transgene in Canyon and Walla Walla counties, which suggests that GM plants could spread transgenes into neighboring feral plants and potentially to neighboring conventional or organic fields. Data was collected on management practices adopted by growers to understand if any practices influenced feral populations. Tillage had a significant effect in containing the feral alfalfa population in Fresno County, while no such effect was observed in Canyon County. No management practice significantly increased the feral populations from 2011 to 2019 in all three regions. In 2011, feral alfalfa populations were successfully managed by mowing in Walla Walla County and by spraying in Canyon County. Despite intensive management practices, approximately 40%

to 47% of the 2011 feral alfalfa populations in all three regions persisted, indicating that feral alfalfa populations can be self-perpetuating.

Selena Burke samples roadside alfalfa plants. The population of GM feral plants has risen dramatically in the past decade.

In all three regions, the average plant number per population was significantly greater in 2019 when compared to 2011 and 2012. In Walla Walla County, GM presence was considerably greater when an alfalfa field was present nearby, but no such correlation was noticed in Fresno and Canyon counties. Overall, these results suggest feral

alfalfa populations perpetuate in roadside habitats. Though only 41% to 47% of sites had feral alfalfa in 2019, new sites were also found in some regions, suggesting feral populations are dispersing into the environment. If GM alfalfa acreage grows, the occurrence of GM feral populations will rise and undesirable consequences are possible. All growers should be eradicating feral alfalfa along roadsides to warrant the coexistence of neighbors growing alfalfa for GM, non-GM, and GM-sensitive markets. Tillage and herbicide application are essential in managing feral alfalfa populations and minimizing transgene dispersal. • SANDYA KESOIU Kesoju (pictured) is the director for agriculture education, research, and development at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash. Burke is a graduate student at the University of California-Riverside.











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FORAGE IQ Alfalfa in the South Field Day May 5, Laurens, S.C. Details: bit.ly/HFG-south Alfalfa and Small Grains Field Day May 17, University of California-Davis Details: ucanr.edu/blogs/alfalfa Grassfed Exchange Conference May 18 to 20, Fort Worth, Texas Details: grassfedexchange.com Virginia Grazing School May 18 and 19, Orange, Va. Details: vaforages.org/events Roots of Resilience Grazing Conference May 25 and 26, Pendleton, Ore. Details: rootsofresilience.org UGA/UF Corn Silage and Forage Field Day May 26, Citra, Fla. Details: bit.ly/HFG-CSFD Four-State Dairy Nutrition Conf. June 1 and 2, Dubuque, Iowa Details: fourstatedairy.org Wisconsin Farm Technology Days July 12 to 14, Loyal, Wis. Details: wifarmtechdays.org Southern Pasture and Forage Crop Improvement Conference July 26 to 28, Asheville, N.C. Details: agrilife.org/spfcic National Hay Association Convention September 21 to 24, Perrysburg, Ohio Details: nationalhay.org World Dairy Expo World Forage Analysis Superbowl October 2 to 7, Madison, Wis. Corn silage entries due July 8 Hay crop entries due August 25 Details: bit.ly/HFG-WFAS Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Hay Contest October 18 to 20, Moultrie, Ga. Hay contest entries due September 1 Details: bit.ly/HFG-SHC World Alfalfa Congress November 14 to 17, San Diego, Calif. Details: worldalfalfacongress.ucdavis. edu


Drought continues to loom Dry weather persists in much of the West and water availability in 2022 remains a concern. This has sent many buyers into the market earlier than normal and has helped to keep hay prices high in the Western and Great Plains states. Further, hay exports are off to a strong start in 2022. The USDA is projecting a 1% de-

cline in harvested hay acres in 2022 compared to 2021. Milk, beef, and commodity prices remain high. All of these factors point to strong hay prices moving forward. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of midApril. 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 (central SJV) California (southeast) Colorado (southeast)-ssb Iowa Kansas (north central) Kansas (northwest) Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Oklahoma (northwest) Texas (Panhandle) Texas (west)-ssb Wyoming (western) Premium-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV)-ssb California (southeast) Colorado (southeast) Idaho (southeast) Iowa Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (northwest) Kansas (southwest) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Pipestone)-ssb Missouri Montana Nebraska (western) Oklahoma (northeast)-lrb Oklahoma (western)-lrb Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-ssb Oregon (Klamath)-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica) Texas (Panhandle) Washington-ssb Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (eastern) Good-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV)-ssb California (southeast) Colorado (southeast) Iowa (Rock Valley) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (northeast) Kansas (southeast) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Missouri-lrb Montana Nebraska (Platte Valley)-lrb Nebraska (western) Oklahoma (central)-lrb Oklahoma (southwest)

Price $/ton 440 365-371 290 290-315 200-225 275 200 180-240 200-250 240 290-310 300-330 300 Price $/ton 370 355-358 260 250 255 180-215 235 205 185-240 205-210 160-200 325 240-300 215 185 340-350 280-320 280-300 205-210 260-280 360 290 210 Price $/ton 365 330-350 235 165 155-160 225 160-190 180-185 180-190 120-160 280-300 150 200-210 160 200

Oregon (Lake County) (d) Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Texas (west) Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb (d) Wyoming (western) Fair-quality hay California (intermountain)-ssb Colorado (San Luis Valley) (d) Idaho (south central) (d) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (north central) Kansas (south central)-lrb Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Missouri-lrb Montana Oklahoma (northwest)-lrb Pennsylvania (southeast) Washington (d) Wisconsin (Lancaster) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Premium lrb Alabama-Good lrb California (southeast)-Premium ssb Oklahoma (southeast)-Premium lrb Texas (central)-Good/Prem lrb (d) Texas (southern)-Good/Prem ssb Bromegrass hay Kansas (south central)-Good Kansas (southeast)-Good Orchardgrass hay Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Premium ssb (d) Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good ssb Washington-Fair/Good ssb Timothy hay Montana-Premium ssb (d) Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Fair (d) Washington-Utility Oat hay Colorado (San Luis Valley)-Good Minnesota (Pipestone)-Good Oklahoma (northwest)-Premium lrb South Dakota (Corsica)-Good lrb Straw Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Oklahoma (northeast) (d) Pennsylvania (southeast) (d) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

260 160-250 225 185-195 235-260 135-175 250 Price $/ton 320 200 230-260 105-120 120-130 135 175-205 170 100-125 280 130 170-185 250 135-145 Price $/ton 120-133 70-90 310 145 120-160 260-330 Price $/ton 120-125 140 Price $/ton 325-350 190-230 260-340 300 Price $/ton 360 210-320 90-135 160 Price $/ton 170 190 130 155 Price $/ton 120-128 60-90 95-115 125 115-170 85-140










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in a short length of test electric fence that runs out from the perimeter to separate the water source from the rest of the pasture so the animals have to learn to walk around the fence or almost into it to be able drink. Attach some flagging on the wire so they can see it, be curious, and walk up to it slowly. It’s temporary, so expect them to knock it down. Put it back up, and after a few days, they’ll build respect. Then, move that fence to a new location and see how they adjust to it. Once cattle know what the fence is for, use polywire to create a temporary grazing paddock with access to water and large enough for a few days of grazing. Take time to watch the cattle and observe the grass and its recovery. Be sure you’re grazing to the desired intensity, but not overgrazing. With time, livestock will soon learn that every move to a new paddock means something better to eat.

Don’t be late As we’ve transitioned the Noble Research Institute’s herds to adaptive

grazing, the cattle learned quickly and now readily follow us into a new paddock with fresh grass as soon as we grab the polywire reel or gate handle. It’s works far better than trying to push them! The more time spent with livestock, the more they will communicate to you when it’s time to move. If they begin to look at you, wanting to move, you’ll know either forage quantity or quality is limited. If they meet you at the gate, then it’s an indication that the move came too late. When you start small, and apply short grazing events followed by long recovery times, any “missteps” have only a temporary impact on the forage, livestock, and soil. The key is being observant and adjusting as you go. Be sure to keep good records about grazing and recovery times and how they differ with weather and season of year. What stocking rate and stock densities seemed to work best? What didn’t turn out as well as you thought it would? What did you learn? The notes you make the first year will be invalu-

able during future years. Once your livestock are somewhat accustomed to use of the electric fences and you are becoming comfortable with basic rotational grazing management, then it’s time to move into what we would call adaptive or regenerative grazing. In Part 3 of this series, we’ll go deeper into planning for and managing adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing and the option of using high stock density grazing when you have abundant quantities of forage. • HUGH ALJOE Hugh Aljoe (pictured) is the director of producer relations at Noble Research Institute (NRI), Ardmore, Okla. Steve Smith is a wildlife and fisheries consultant with NRI.

IN FUTURE ISSUES: Part 3: AMPing it up using high stock density grazing

4 Safe practices 4 Educational Resources




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vested as silage, fermentation will help reduce prussic acid levels.

All photos Mike Rankin

Traits abound One of the producer benefits of sorghum species is that there is a plethora of available traits to fit an operation’s needs and cropping plans. Those currently available are listed below, and some hybrids possess more than one of these traits: • Sugarcane aphid tolerance • Brown midrib • Photoperiod sensitivity • Dry stalk • High leaf-to-stem ratio • Brachytic dwarf •H erbicide resistance (non-transgenic)

Coming soon

Sorghum is soaring by Mike Rankin


ORGHUM and its many variations now appear in fields across the U.S. with virtually no latitude or longitude limitations when hybrids are properly selected. Their ability to tolerate drought, generate substantial biomass, and produce high-quality forage makes sorghum species a valuable option in the forage toolbox. In a recent Forage Forum webinar offered by Purdue University Extension, postdoctoral researcher Shelby Gruss discussed sorghum’s flexibility as a silage, hay, and grazing crop. For forage producers, the most widely utilized sorghum types include the high-yielding, one-cut forage sorghum hybrids and the multi-cut sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass hybrids. Forage sorghums are almost always harvested as silage, whereas sorghum-sudangrass and sudangrass can be utilized as silage, greenchop, hay, or for grazing. In much of the U.S., making dry hay from sorghum species is challenging because the stems are difficult to dry down. Gruss noted that any of the harvest method options shouldn’t occur until plants have reached at least 18 to 24 inches tall to avoid prussic acid concerns. She also said that greenchopped sorghum needs to be fed the same day to avoid nitrite accumulation in the feed.

When planning to incorporate sorghum species into a crop rotation, it’s critical to wait until soil temperatures reach at least 60°F before planting. “Sorghum thrives in high temperatures and will continue growing in temperatures up to 100°F, whereas corn will stop growing at about 85°F,” Gruss said. “Sorghum also requires less fertilizer and water compared to corn.”

Gruss pointed out that dhurrin-free or prussic acid-free hybrids will soon be on the market; these originated from some of her research at Purdue. The dhurrin-free hybrids are expected to be available in the next two to three years and have proven to be highly preferred by grazing livestock.

It starts with dhurrin “Although sorghums have many benefits, there are also some concerns with the crop,” Gruss asserted. “These are prussic acid poisoning and high nitrates, although the latter can be a problem in many other types of forage crops as well.” The researcher noted that a compound called dhurrin is the precursor to the formation of prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid) and is most prevalent in young plants or tillers and plant leaf tissues that are stressed in some way, such as frost or drought. Like nitrates, dhurrin levels can also rise when a crop is overfertilized with nitrogen. To avoid problems with prussic acid, Gruss suggested not harvesting or grazing plants less than 2-feet tall, not harvesting plants under drought stress, and waiting at least a week before harvesting frosted plants. She also noted that producers can choose sorghum hybrids that have been selected for low dhurrin content. For sorghums har-

Brown midrib sorghum species can vastly improve forage fiber digestibility.

Also, during the course of the Purdue research, Gruss said they found that dhurrin content or prussic acid poisoning potential was not reduced during the wilting period of sorghum forage after being cut. This means that prussic acid poisoning is still a risk for dry hay. This finding contrasted with previous reports. In closing, Gruss said it is important for producers to consider their cropping and feeding goals to determine what traits will fit best on their farms. For example, a photoperiod sensitive hybrid may be a problem for silage harvest because it never goes reproductive in Northern latitudes. As a result, it stays wet and requires a freeze before it will dry down. On the flip side, these types may be beneficial in a grazing situation. •

20 | Hay & Forage Grower | April/May 2022

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