Hay & Forage Grower - January 2022

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January 2022

Drought brings alfalfa salinity issues pg 10 Why winter strip graze? Look to red clover Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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Minimize harvester downtime pg 27

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January 2022 · VOL. 37 · No. 1 MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer L. Yurs ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg jzilverberg@hayandforage.com ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com



Baleage buffs Two Arkansas beef-producing families have drought-proofed their farms with baleage. Wrapping bales has also allowed them to step up their forage quality game.

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 14 The Pasture Walk 15 Dairy Feedbunk 20 Beef Feedbunk


24 Alfalfa Checkoff


26 Feed Analysis 27 Forage Gearhead

Feed hay the rotational grazing way

Efficiency keys this harvesting business

Bale grazing helps save on labor costs and enables the user to uniformly spread nutrients across the pasture.

Van Kooten Ag Services custom chops alfalfa and corn silage near Volga, S.D. They also grind hay and bale cornstalks.





















34 Forage IQ 34 Hay Market Update ON THE COVER

Cattle on the farm of Roman Miller near Rock Springs, Wis., enjoy fresh hay on a fresh snowpack. Miller has 50 brood cows and buys additional stockers to finish about 100 head of grass-fed beef per year. He converted his 230-acre row-crop farm to rotational grazing in 2017. Pastures are comprised primarily of orchardgrass and clovers with some alfalfa. In 2021, he didn’t begin feeding hay on pasture until early December. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2021 W. D. Hoard & Sons Company. All rights reserved. Published six times annually in January, February, March, April/May, August/September and November by W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Tel: 920-563-5551. Fax: 920-563-7298. Email: info@hayandforage.com. Website: www.hayandforage.com. Periodicals Postage paid at Fort Atkinson, Wis., and additional mail offices. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. Non-qualified subscribers may subscribe at: USA: 1 year $20 U.S.; Outside USA: Canada & Mexico, 1 year $80 U.S.; All other countries, 1 year $120 U.S. For Subscriber Services contact: Hay & Forage Grower, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 USA; call: 920-563-5551, email: info@hayandforage.com or visit: www.hayandforage.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to HAY & FORAGE GROWER, 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Subscribers who have provided a valid email address may receive the Hay & Forage Grower email newsletter eHay Weekly.

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Sisyphus and Walter


Mike Rankin Managing Editor

N HIS book Sisyphus in the Hayfield: Views of a Berkshire Farmer, author and dairy farmer Walter Howard wrote: “Hay and I start the season as friends. No Chanel can match the smell of hay cured in early-June sunshine. By mid-July, the friendship is severely strained, the perfume larded over with sweat. And with August and second wind, an uneasy truce at best as the barn fills and we head for the final tree line.” A friend recently gave me Howard’s book to read. It’s not a book that ever graced The New York Times’ list of best sellers, but it is a book that I found unable to put down until the final page was turned. The collection of short essays was from a time when Howard, who died in 1987 at the age of 51, was the op-ed page editor of The Berkshire Eagle newspaper in western Massachusetts. Many of the entries encompass his 1970s and 1980s dairy farm experiences, both serious and humorous, and the evils of agricultural policy at the time. Many of the discussed evils still exist today. Howard was a graduate of Yale University — a thinker. His family owned a dairy farm in the Berkshire Mountains, and it was here that Howard farmed full time for over a decade before his newspaper gig. Howard’s father, Sidney, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and won an Academy Award for the screenplay of “Gone with the Wind.” Sidney died in a farm accident on the Howard dairy. And that brings us to Sisyphus. If your memory of Greek mythology is a little rusty, or you haven’t watched “Jeopardy!” in a while, Sisyphus was the king of Corinth who got on the wrong side of both Zeus and Hades. He was condemned to eternal punishment in Tartarus, said to be the lowest region of the Underworld. Sisyphus’ post-death fate was to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down when it neared the top. The actions of both the boulder and Sisyphus would repeat perpetually. Howard wrote: “Meanwhile, I sweat through a recurring harvest nightmare in which a Sisyphus, confronted with an endless sausage of timothy, clonks away on his baler toward a receding horizon, while behind him the bales untie them-

selves and subside comfortably into the stubble.” The author farmed during a time when cranking out small square bales and moving them off the field by hand was still in vogue. That has changed. What hasn’t changed are the realities of being a haymaker, whether you chop it or bale it big, small, or round. These realities include: • When you cut hay, it grows back. There is no “being done” during the growing season; it’s not a “one-shot” deal like corn or other annuals. • Weather conditions during those few days from cutting to baling are cause for losing thousands of dollars per shower and responsible for an equal number of minutes of worry and frustration. • Timing is always of the essence. There’s little to no wiggle room for the haymaker. Working against optimum timing is the weather, any number of potential mechanical breakdowns, and the high likelihood of a flat tire at the most inopportune time. Howard wrote regarding tires, “Lord knows, the road to balable hay is always paved with nails and barbed wire.” • There are those days when windrows seem like an “endless sausage,” and we can relate to Sisyphus with an r-squared above 0.9. There are plenty of farmers who don’t raise livestock or the required ruminant feed. They are often chastised by the sustainability crowd for not inviting perennial forages into their coveted two-crop rotation. What these groups don’t understand is that many farmers want no part of the realities of haymaking. It takes a special individual with Sisyphus-like persistence. Many of you are likely members of this clan. As you read this, the days are already getting longer. Hayfields are dormant and thinking of ways to frustrate their masters during next season. Howard wrote of this time: “I should start right now planning for the big assault next spring. But please, God, give me a couple of weeks to think about something else for a change.” Happy haymaking in 2022. May the force of Sisyphus be with you. •

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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The Bailey family maintains a herd of about 300 Brangus-Angus cross brood cows. They wrap both their baleage and dry hay. From left to right: Bob, Deborah, Will, and Sydney Bailey.

BALEAGE BUFFS by Mike Rankin


OMEWHERE at the intersection of dry hay and chopped haylage you’ll find baleage, and that crossroads is getting more crowded with each passing year. Like many haymaking systems, it’s hard to cut corners with baleage and realize its full potential. For those willing to make the system work as it should, baleage can totally change a

beef operation for the better. Arkansas springs can be wet, while summers are always humid. Both situations can make it challenging to make dry hay; however, for the Bailey family in southwest Arkansas, it wasn’t too much moisture that drove them to baleage — but rather a lack of it. “The droughts of 2011 and 2012 were a wakeup call for us,” lamented Will Bailey. “Those years hit us hard, and we knew that something had to change.”

That “something” turned out to be baleage. “Baleage gave us a way to drought-proof ourselves,” said Will’s father, Bob, who farms with his son. The Baileys, including Bob’s wife, Deborah, and Will’s wife, Sydney, own and operate 900 acres of pasture and hay land near De Queen, Ark., just a short distance from the Oklahoma border. All four family members are actively engaged in farming activities, and they maintain a herd of about

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All photos: Mike Rankin

300 Brangus-Angus cross brood cows. Calves are backgrounded for 60 to 100 days through the winter months. The farm also has 12 chicken houses, which provide a steady source of income and a ready source of poultry litter for their forage acres.

A win-win “Traditionally, people didn’t cut hay around here until Memorial Day,” Bob said. “We started planting the wheat and crimson clover for an early crop that we could harvest as baleage and give us extra feed. The winter backgrounding program was a by-product of the system that we used as a means to keep the wheat from maturing too fast. It was a game-changer for us because

we got the extra feed and realized more profit from the backgrounded calves that get sold in the spring at 800 to 850 pounds,” he explained. The wheat-clover mix is seeded on a portion of the Baileys’ 160 acres of dedicated hayfields. These fields, along with their pastures, have a base sod of bermudagrass and crabgrass in about equal proportions. The crabgrass is allowed to go to seed late in the year to replenish the soil’s seed bank. In the fall, wheat and crimson clover are no-till seeded on fields that will be used for backgrounding. The pastures get seeded with a mixture of tetraploid annual ryegrasses. “We drill 100 pounds of wheat and 10 pounds of crimson clover per acre,” Will said. “We’ve found it easier and quicker to just broadcast the ryegrass at a rate of 25 pounds per acre.” During the winter, cows are supplemented with dry hay and ryegrass baleage. Once the ryegrass reaches grazing height, cows are rotated between pastures and dry lots. In the spring, cows and calves are rotated through the ryegrass pastures until it plays out around the beginning of June. The Baileys make about 600 bales of baleage and 600 to 700 bales of dry hay per year. “Even the majority of the dry bales get wrapped,” Will noted. “This avoids the dry matter loss from just storing them outside, and we don’t have to worry about a loss of protein that comes with excessive heating.” Baleage is made from the farm’s wheat-clover acres plus any excess ryegrass or crabgrass. Dry hay is harvested from the dedicated bermudagrass-crabgrass hayfields. This hay is generally baled between 18% and 24% moisture and then wrapped.

Doing it right The Baileys don’t cut corners, using eight wraps of plastic with their in-line wrapper on both baleage and dry hay. “We want to ensure oxygen exclusion, and we like to wrap bales immediately,” Will said. “There have been times when we saw the sun go down while we were wrapping and then were still out there to see it come back up.” Baleage is harvested in the range of 40% to 60% moisture. “Sometimes with ryegrass, we’ll push it to 65% because the sugar content is high, and it ferments pretty easily,” Will noted. “The wheat and clover are less forgiving.” No baling begins until a sample is

put in a microwave to check its moisture. Deborah records the moistures and keeps track what fields the hay is harvested from. Once wrapped, Sydney acts as the quality control specialist for maintaining plastic integrity during the year. She inspects bales regularly, and any holes are quickly patched. She also will apply glyphosate around the bale lines to keep weeds at bay and discourage wildlife damage. The Baileys’ fields are soil tested and fertilized accordingly. “Most of the hayfields only need nitrogen,” Will explained. “We apply 2 tons per acre of chicken litter to every acre in the spring. Then, after each cutting, commercial nitrogen is applied.” Up to six cuttings per year are harvested. The harvesting is done with two John Deere 10-foot mower-conditioners, and swaths are laid out as wide as possible. The forage is then tedded once, raked, and baled with a McHale V660 round baler. “Baleage is definitely one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Will exclaimed. “Its high quality has basically cut out the need for supplemental feeds. I attempt to talk people into trying it all the time.”

From ballcocks to baleage About 130 miles northeast of the Bailey operation lies the small burg of Havana, Ark. It’s here that Nick Taylor and his wife, Jamie, also sing the praises of baleage on their cattle and chicken operation. Nick, who didn’t come from a farming background, became a plumber after graduating from high school and ran a successful business. It was Jamie’s family who farmed, and she worked for the land conservation district while maintaining a few chicken houses at the home farm. With the eventual opportunity to farm full time, Nick and Jamie started on 80 acres of her family’s operation. These days, the Taylors have 700 owned acres spread across multiple farms within a five-mile radius. Their cattle operation consists of 250 to 275 brood cows and a herd of bulls. “I didn’t come into farming with any preconceived notions, so we haven’t always done things the same as other people,” Nick said. “I’m also not afraid to try something new or different.” “We learn a lot from life,” Jamie added. Like the Baileys, the Taylors love continued on following page >>> January 2022 | hayandforage.com | 7

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Baleage, pictured here on the Bailey farm, has been a game changer for both the Bailey and Taylor families. “Baleage gave us a way to droughtproof ourselves,” Will Bailey said. Nick Taylor noted that the lowest protein test from his ryegrass and crabgrass baleage was still 12%.

their baleage. “That’s my baby,” Nick asserted. “I eat and breathe to make hay. Baleage allows us to get good feed put up with some fairly short windows between rains.” Ryegrass is typically seeded in the fall, but some mid-winter seeding has been done when weather conditions allow. Marshall is Nick’s preferred variety, but Winterhawk has also been used successfully. He will often apply glyphosate in early fall before no-till seeding the ryegrass. This helps with competition and weed control. “I have an old Haybuster no-till drill,” Nick noted. “It might have been number one off the assembly line. I traded some chicken litter for it,” he chuckled. The Taylors have crabgrass as their summer-annual base grass, although they also have some permanent pastures that are predominantly tall fescue. Nick gets two cuttings of ryegrass, and by the third cutting, stands are usually half crabgrass. Then, crabgrass takes over for the remainder of the summer. “We make our baleage out of the ryegrass and crabgrass,” Nick said. “It’s interesting, I have to feed my ryegrass first. If I offer a crabgrass bale and ryegrass bale, they’ll always devour the crabgrass baleage first and then won’t eat the ryegrass.”

“I eat and breathe to make hay,” said Nick Taylor of Havana, Ark. “Baleage allows us to get some good feed up with some fairly short windows between rains.”

It’s all about the cattle The Taylors begin calving their cows in late January and wean in September through October. They also purchase high-risk stockers at that time. Both their backgrounded calves and stockers are supplemented with baleage and commodities, then sold around the first of the year. “Our cows don’t start getting baleage until sometime in December,” Jamie explained. Hay is cut with a Kuhn 10-foot mowerconditioner, and then tedded and baled

with a John Deere 460M round baler. The Taylors make about 1,500 baleage bales and 300 dry bales per year. “We sometimes bale the same day as cutting,” Nick said. “I like to target about 60% moisture but will bale drier. We forage test all of our baleage. I know what every row is. This year, our lowest protein test was 12% and total digestible nutrients (TDNs) are generally in the 60s,” he added. Baleage is wrapped using a Tubeline in-line wrapper, applying 10 layers of plastic. “To be successful, you can’t skimp on wrap,” Nick advised. Like the Baileys, the Taylors also wrap most of their dry hay to preserve quality and minimize dry matter losses. This past year, Nick grew a small field of corn to cut, bale, and wrap. After planting and applying chicken litter, he had a crop that was 6-feet tall and ready to cut in about 35 days. “It was tough to get dry, but the feeder calves loved that stuff,” he said. Weather extremes of being too wet or too dry are more common these days than ever before. Such conditions can have a dramatic impact on how cattle are typically fed, managed, and marketed. Baleage, done right, may not be a cure for all weather ills, but it certainly can provide additional options and keep plans closer to normal than they otherwise would be. Just ask the Baileys and the Taylors. •

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Salt residue build up on a Western waterway.

drought and soil salinity interact along with possible management actions that can be taken.

All photos: Mike Rankin

A common salt source

Drought brings added salinity issues for alfalfa by Don Miller LFALFA growers in the western U.S. are very aware of how important it is to have adequate irrigation water to produce a crop. In the distant past, irrigation water appeared to be unlimited and could be sourced from major rivers and/or pumped from underground aquifers. However, over time, the demand for water for agriculture and cities has become greater than the supply. The lack of water is being exasperated by a severe multi-year drought that is reducing river flows and placing high demands on irrigation water from aquifers. With major reservoirs at historic lows, many regions are limiting the amount of surface water made available to produce crops like alfalfa. Many farms and ranches only receive a small fraction of their annual allotment of irrigation water from these reservoirs. The difference is often made up by pumping from underground aquifers. However, this practice is not sustainable in the long term and may become more regulated in the future. With the potential reality of climate

change and the possibility of more long-term droughts in the future, farmers are implementing water conservation practices and utilizing new technologies to efficiently apply the water they do have. Regions that historically used flood irrigation are moving to sprinklers and, in some cases, drip lines. These methods significantly reduce the water used to grow alfalfa during the growing season but tend to enhance soil salinity. At some point, when rainfall or available irrigation water are not sufficient to leach accumulating soluble salts out of the root zone, salinity will interfere with normal crop growth and performance. The yield losses may be small at first, but if left unchecked, the salinity will worsen over time and eventually cause economic losses. The rate of salinity buildup and amount is often more severe during periods of drought. Soil salinity is caused by two factors: 1. Water sources may become more saline during extended droughts, and 2. The ability to leach salts out of the soil profile is hampered by the lack of adequate water. The following is a brief overview of how

One of the most common sources of soil salts is irrigation water. Most, if not all, irrigation water contains some level of salt. It has been said that over time, irrigation leads to the salinization of soil and water. As such, all irrigated land will eventually have to be managed for salt. Rainwater is virtually free of salt; however, all water that contacts the soil will pick up salts, with the amount varying depending on the composition of the soil in each region. River water at the source is relatively pure but will collect soluble salts as it moves downstream. In wet years, the large amounts of water in river flows can dilute the salt concentration; however, in times of drought, the amount of water in the normal stream flow declines, and there is less water to dilute the salt load. Irrigation water taken from surface sources during droughts is generally more saline and will deposit more salt in the soil profile. It has been reported that the California aqueduct irrigation water deposits 700 pounds of salt for each acre foot of water applied. A full irrigation season deposits 1.2 tons of salt per acre. During drought periods, the salt load may be even higher. There are some mitigation strategies that can be used to reduce salt levels in the soil. During good water years, farmers can take advantage of the lower river water saline content and use that irrigation water to leach soil salts out of the root zone. In regions where farmers have access to both surface and subsurface water of varying salt content, the good quality water can be used to dilute the salt load by leaching more concentrated salts out of the root zone. This can be done by either alternating the good and bad water sources or, if possible, physically mixing the water sources during irrigation to dilute the overall salt content.

DON MILLER The author is the director of product development for Alforex Seeds and has worked with Western alfalfa growers for nearly 40 years.

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Extreme drought conditions and lower stream flows may reduce the alfalfa grower’s access to lower saline irrigation water for this practice.

Aquifer stratification In some aquifers, fresh water is perched over deeper, more saline water. This is because fresh water is less dense, having a specific gravity of 1, while saline water is more dense and has a specific gravity of 1.025. Excessive pumping during drought conditions to offset the lower surface water allocations may cause the deeper saline water in the aquifer to move upward and mix with the fresh water. This can raise the saline content of the irrigation water being pumped and lead to additional salt buildup in the soil profile. Knowledge of which wells have the best quality water is important in managing soil salinity. Periodically, test each well’s salinity during the irrigation season, especially late in the season. Water from some wells may become more saline as the season progresses with larger amounts of water being pumped from the aquifer. Before irrigation water became more limited, many regions used irrigation methods, such as flood irrigation, that applied large volumes of water. This method commonly applied 6 or more inches of water per irrigation, and as a result, there was plenty of water to leach accumulating salts out of the soil profile. However, as water became more limited, farmers started using other forms of irrigation to apply their limited water supply more efficiently. Over time, many farms converted from flood irrigation to various forms of sprinkler irrigation. Some areas have now embraced the recent technology of drip irrigation to produce alfalfa. These water conservation practices offered the means of significantly reducing the amount of water used per irrigation but generally provided less water for leaching salts out of the soil profile. The following are a few of those methods and their limitations regarding salinity: Circle pivots and sprinklers: Sprinkler systems often apply a lot less water per irrigation than flood irrigation. However, the wetting depth in the soil profile generally is only about 8 to 12 inches deep. Repeated irrigations with this reduced amount of water (2 to 4 inches) results in the accumulation of salts at the edge of the soil wetting front.

temporary sprinklers to provide extra water for this leaching process.

At the end of the season or during a seasonal wet period, it may be necessary to apply a heavy irrigation to leach salts out of root zone depending on the salinity buildup.

Alfalfa advancements During the last 20 years, there has been a lot of breeding work done in developing alfalfa varieties to tolerate higher levels of salinity both at germination and in production years. These varieties still perform in nonsaline soils but have the added genetic advantage of providing better establishment and yield in marginal saline soils. Developing drought tolerance in alfalfa is not as advanced as the breeding work for salinity. However, preliminary research appears to indicate that a salt tolerant variety’s ability to access water efficiency against a strong saline osmotic soil solution may provide some advantage in limited water situations when alfalfa is also exposed to drought conditions. Routinely monitor your soil and irrigation water salinity. Alfalfa is somewhat tolerant to salinity; however, as the water salinity rises during a drought, there can be an associated yield loss due to salinity in soil or water salinity, which is often measured by electrical conductivity (ECe or ECw; see Table 1). There is a 7.5% yield loss in alfalfa for each soil ECe

Electrical conductivity (ec) meters make it more convenient to test soil and water salinity.

It’s advisable to periodically check the level and extent of the salt buildup in the soil profile under the sprinkler, particularly at the depth of the wetting zone front. This will help determine the extent of any salt buildup in the root zone. Drip irrigation: With limited water and drought conditions, more drip irrigation is being used for alfalfa production, especially in California and Arizona. The efficiency of this irriga-

Table 1. Expected crop yield reductions at various EC levels % crop loss at EC value

Yield reduction estimates 0%





ECw 2




















































ECe=soil salinity 2 ECw=water salinity 1

tion method is that it only wets the soil closest to the plant roots. However, like sprinklers, salts can accumulate at the edge of wetting front and salt buildup can eventually be an issue. When using drip irrigation, maintain enough water flow through drip lines to push salts accumulating at wetting front out of root zone. Monitor salt buildup in the soil profile and if salinity levels become excessive, it may be necessary to apply a heavier irrigation to push salts out of the active root zone. This can be done in wet years or between crops. Some farms utilize

point above 2. Investing in a portable salt (EC) meter for $300 to $500 can make monitoring salinity a lot more convenient (see photo). Another mitigation strategy is to eliminate poor producing fields and use additional water to leach salts out of the root zone in the highest producing fields. Finally, plant salt tolerant alfalfa varieties where salinity is a recurring or growing issue. A list of these varieties can be found in the National Alfalfa & Forage Association’s Alfalfa Variety Ratings 2022 booklet at bit.ly/ HFG-AVR22. • January 2022 | hayandforage.com | 11

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N A corn silage system, producers are served by two equally important groups: the nutritionists, who help feed the silage, and the agronomists, who help grow it. With apologies to viewers of the “Law & Order” television show, these are their stories. While no murder has occurred in the making of your corn silage, crimes do happen. It is only through the cooperation of the nutritionist and agronomist that future issues can be avoided.

Dissect the crime scene The body in the case of the corn silage caper usually comes in the form of depressed milk production or unhealthy cows. Cows were milking well, and now as they go into new corn silage, the milk production has dropped. Perhaps manure is uneven, a few cows are sick, or maybe reproduction measures are turning south. The crime scene almost always begins at the silo where the corn silage resides. A visual observation might seem simplistic, but it’s a good starting point. After safely collecting a representative sample, look closely and use a measuring device to assess cut length. In Exhibit 1, we can see some corn silage that was chopped finely, close to 10 millimeters (mm) and shorter than we would like to see it. This silage is unlikely to develop an acceptable

Exhibit 1

rumen mat in a high corn silage diet. In this same picture, you can see a few whole kernels. A short cut with whole kernels equates to a double homicide. Exhibit 2 shows some corn silage that is unevenly cut. A few measurements picked up quite a few pieces over 25 mm. Two adjustments should have been made on this chopper — get the cut length between 20 and 25 mm and check the shear bar. If the shear bar is wearing, you will often see ragged or long pieces in the corn silage; these pieces create an uneven, sortable totally mixed ration (TMR) in some situations. Exhibit 3 is a great visualization of variation in the bunk. While color is not always an indicator of silage quality, differences in color across the bunker silo face likely indicate various hybrids, fields, and dry matter concentrations. A single lab sample doesn’t always reflect the range in bunker silo variation. Processing corn silage has received considerable attention, but problems still occur in the field. Worn processors, dry corn, or custom choppers that are in a hurry can all lead to less-thanideal processing. On-farm processing scores, the SilageSnap app, and lab analyses can quantify processing effectiveness. All good ideas, of course, but a quick visual usually points you in the right direction. Perhaps just as important as the harvest measurements for corn silage is the storage. At times, the crime scene is

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 3

easy. Like a bloody knife in the hands of the alleged perpetrator, mold at the edges or top of the pile or bunker is an easy sign that something is amiss. Was an oxygen barrier film used? Were the sides of the bunker wrapped? Did you run out of tires to cover the pile? There can be times that a visual doesn’t tell the whole story, and we need to go to forensic-level analysis. Thermal imaging can reveal hot spots in the bunker — perhaps removal rate is insufficient, inoculant use was incomplete, or packing was inadequate. As you walk away from the crime scene, you likely already have enough evidence to point to the perpetrator (or process), but we often must dig deeper.

Examine lab evidence The crime lab, or in this case, the forage lab, is usually the next stop in discovery. Target desired tests toward the crime. If poor fermentation is suspected, spend the money for wet lab analysis that offer levels of fermentation byproducts. If mold issues are a concern, spend the money for mold and mycotoxin identification. Starch, fiber, and protein are starting points for a rookie detective. Fiber digestibility is a key metric that nutritionists like to dissect. Highly digestible brown midrib (BMR) hybrids can offer 67% neutral detergent fiber digestibility at 30 hours (NDFD30) while older, traditional grain hybrids might be closer to 55%

Exhibit 4

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NDFD30. But it’s too simplistic to just think that hybrids perform equally across geographies and soil types. A lot of dairies are on the fringes of great corn ground, and they thank their ancestors every spring for settling on extremely heavy or light soil, in a floodplain, or on the side of a hill. Focusing on a healthy plant — think irrigation, fungicide, and soil health — can lead to corn silage with a NDFD30 in the range of 60% to 62%. You might have to dig deeper than one 30-hour fiber digestibility metric. Looking at 12-hour digestibility might also be helpful. High-producing cows have a high turnover rate in their rumens and require a lot of digestion up front. Don’t forget the undigestible fiber (uNDF240). High levels are essentially a filler in the diet and can limit intake. Measurements like acid levels (acetic,

lactic, and butyric) and pH can often help us understand problems with fermentation. Beyond lab analyses for mycotoxins, have a discussion with the agronomist. What did they see in the field? Exhibit 4 was taken in 2021. Can we anticipate a problem here?

Prevent the next crime With the evidence in hand, there are two things left to do. First, if possible, adjust for the corn silage on hand. Dispose of moldy corn silage, adjust rations for starch digestibility, and maybe add straw to counter particle length or add a binder to account for mycotoxins. Second, prevent the crime from happening again. This usually starts in the year before corn silage is planted. Hybrid selection, purchasing and committing to fungicides, and

buying a quality inoculant are often decisions that need to be made three to six months before the seed is placed in the soil. If processing and storage were the culprits, plan a harvest meeting with your chopper operator. Is the chopper maintained, are there enough tires to fully cover the pile, or does another pack tractor need to be added? Explain the issue and work toward a solution — but perhaps omit the crime scene analogies. •

PAUL DYK The author is a dairy nutrition consultant with GPS Dairy Consulting LLC and is based in Malone, Wis.

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RAZING management during the active growing season is largely about the plants and the soil. Our focus is maximizing solar energy capture and building soil health. If we accomplish these two objectives, animal performance is usually going to be satisfactory. The key management strategies to achieve these goals are short grazing periods and appropriate recovery periods. I often emphasize the reason for short grazing periods during the growing season is because mostly negative things are happening to pasture plants during the grazing period: leaves are being eaten, photosynthesis is reduced, root growth pauses, and direct feeding of microbes via root exudates slows or stops. Thus, short grazing periods make sense during the growing season. If short grazing periods are all about managing growing plant responses, why should we worry about maintaining short grazing periods through the winter months when plants are no longer actively growing? The answer lies with animal response. The second line in the position description of a cow reads: Find the best bite of feed you can. This describes the ability of grazing animals to selectively graze. The animal is always seeking out the most nutritious bite in the pasture. This is a key to survival. We can view selective grazing as either a negative or a positive. Let’s look at two scenarios for grazing stockpiled pasture or range in

the dormant season. In the first scenario we have a large field that looks like it should feed this herd of cows for a couple of months, so we just turn the herd out into the entire pasture. The cows look like they’re doing great for a few weeks but then we begin to see condition score begin to slip. A month into our winter grazing program it’s determined that a protein supplement is needed. What happened? Because the cattle are highly motivated to find the best bite of feed they can, they seek out and select the highest protein plants in the mix. This is especially true if we have stockpiled warm-season grasses for our winter feed bank. It doesn’t happen as quickly on stockpiled tall fescue pastures, but it will eventually happen on most other stockpiled pastures. This is when we view selective grazing as a negative factor in grazing management.

Batch processing Ruminant animals do not need to directly consume a protein supplement daily. On the other hand, monogastrics such as humans, hogs, and dogs need to consume intact protein each day. Ruminant digestion and nutrient processing are driven by the microbes in the rumen. This is more of a batch-processing system, where periodic addition of protein or even non-protein nitrogen keeps the microbes ticking along and taking care of business. Research has shown that cattle fed a protein supplement every three or

Jim Gerrish

by Jim Gerrish

four days will perform just as well as if they had received a supplement every day. That brings us to the idea that strip grazing can be an act of protein supplementation. This is when selective grazing can become a positive management factor. Rather than turning the herd into the entire pasture, we could choose to strip graze the field on a three-day basis. On the first day, the cattle will probably go over the entire strip and high-grade for the best protein and energy bites. The remaining two days on the strip, the rumen bugs are utilizing that burst of protein harvested on the first day. The bottom line is that we continue to use short grazing periods in the winter to budget out our limited protein supply in the pasture to manage rumen function more effectively.

Proven results How realistic is this three-day strip grazing on dormant rangeland? We have many Western clients who have substantially reduced or eliminated their traditional protein supplement program by switching to time-controlled grazing on their rangeland. The cost savings for supplement per cow has ranged from about $20 to $60 per head. Most have also substantially boosted their number of grazing days and reduced days on full feed for further cost savings. In some cases, the pastures have been permanently subdivided with one or two-strand electrified high-tensile fences. Most, however, are using temporary polywire fences to create the three-day grazing strips. With a twomile spool of polywire mounted on the bed of a side-by-side and step-in posts, an experienced worker can set up a mile of fence in about an hour. With a daily cost saving of 40 cents per cow per day, a herd of 300 cows saves $120 per day for a cumulative savings in the three-day period of $360. That’s not a bad wage for a couple hours of work. • JIM GERRISH The author is a rancher, author, speaker, and consultant with over 40 years of experience in grazing management research, outreach, and practice. He has lived and grazed livestock in hot, humid Missouri and cold, dry Idaho.

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by Larry Chase

Red clover provides benefits to dairy

Proven results Several studies were conducted at the University of Wisconsin and the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center comparing alfalfa and red clover silages in dairy cattle diets. The diets used were 50% to 70% forage in the total ration dry matter. The forage portion of the diets was 100% alfalfa or red clover silage. Dry matter intake tended to be lower with red clover silage diets, but this was statistically different in only three out of seven trials reported. Milk production was higher on the red clover diets in one trial and lower in two other trials. Nitrogen use efficiency and energy digestibility tended to be higher when red clover silage was fed. In one of the trials, the diet fed to cows on the red clover diet contained less high-moisture ear corn and more soybean meal than the grain mix fed with the alfalfa silage. Dry matter intake was depressed on the red clover diet. Milk

production, milkfat, milk protein and 3.5% fat-corrected milk were not different between the alfalfa and red clover diets. Feed efficiency (pounds of milk per pound of dry matter intake) was higher on the red clover diet. Dry matter, NDF, and nitrogen digestibility were higher in cows on the red clover diet. A later paper from the Wisconsin researchers used diets with 65% forage. The alfalfa silage diet was 5% corn silage, 47% alfalfa silage, and 13%

Mike Rankin


ED clover is a legume forage that may fit some situations as a replacement for alfalfa. This forage can grow on soils not well suited for alfalfa. These include poorly drained soils and a wide range of pH (5.8 to 7). In this situation, yields of red clover can have higher yields than alfalfa. There are some nutrient composition differences between alfalfa and red clover. Crude protein content can be similar, but red clover has less soluble protein and more rumen undegradable protein. This is due to polyphenol oxidase enzymes in red clover. Fiber levels can also be like alfalfa, but red clover has lower lignin and a higher neutral detergent fiber (NDF) digestibility. However, the rate of decline in fiber digestibility, with advancing maturity, is slower for red clover. Data from trials in New York found that red clover was higher in sugars and lower in starch than alfalfa.

Less soluble protein, lower lignin, and higher NDF digestibility make red clover a suitable substitute for alfalfa.

grass silage as a percent of the total ration dry matter. The treatment diet was 5% corn silage and 60% red clover silage. Dry matter intake was about 2.5 pounds lower on the red clover silage diet. Milk production was not statistically different. Energy-corrected milk was lower on the red clover diet due to lower milkfat and milk protein. Feed efficiency was higher on the red clover diet. Milk urea nitrogen was lower for cows fed the red clover diet while dry matter, NDF, and nitrogen use efficiency were higher.

A suitable alternative Tom Kilcer from Advanced Ag Systems in New York replicated plot trials

Predicted ME and MP milk pounds from feeding red clover or alfalfa Site

ME — alfalfa

ME — red clover

MP — alfalfa

MP — red clover
















comparing alfalfa and red clover forages. There were three locations in New York with different growing degree days. We used the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System model to predict metabolizable energy (ME) and metabolizable protein (MP) milk production. The diet used was 65% forage with 60% of the forage as corn silage and 40% as either alfalfa or red clover forage. The alfalfa and red clover forages used were 40% NDF. The grain mix and dry matter intake was the same for both forages. The alfalfa silage used was 20% crude protein. The three red clover forages were 16.6%, 17.8%, and 16.9% crude protein. The crude protein in the alfalfa was 20%, 19.3%, and 17.8%. The table contains the results of these diet simulations. MP milk was lower at Site 1 due to the red clover being lower in crude protein than the alfalfa. Both ME and MP milk were higher at Site 2, primarily due to higher NDF digestibility in red clover. ME and MP milk were similar at Site 3. The results of these studies indicate that red clover can be an alternative to alfalfa. A key factor in this decision will be the soil type, drainage, and soil pH. Red clover has higher fiber digestibility than alfalfa and less soluble and rumen degradable protein. This provides more rumen undegradable protein and more microbial protein. The amount of a bypass protein source in the dairy diet may be less when using red clover diets, which can lower purchased feed cost. A lower cost protein source can be used as a substitute to provide supplemental protein when red clover is fed. There appears to be less concern of lower dry matter intake when red clover is in a mixture with other forages. A forage analysis should include NDF digestibility to take advantage of red clover in dairy cattle diets. •

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

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by Greg Halich


MAGINE a hay feeding system where you do not have to use a tractor for months at a time while you also build up pasture fertility without applying commercial fertilizer. What if this same system kept your cattle clean during the winter without hair coats caked in mud and built up organic matter levels in your pasture soils. Have I got your attention? Bale grazing is a winter-feeding method where hay is set out on pasture and fed in a planned, controlled manner, somewhat like rotational grazing. Temporary electric fencing limits cattle access to those bales that you want fed in the current move. With each move, a fence is set up to expose new bales, usually 50 to 75 feet in front of the previous fence, which is then taken down to allow the cattle access to the new bales. Where hay rings are used, they are rolled from the old bales to the new bales and flipped over into place. The process is typically repeated every one to seven days. The main requirements for making it work are an open mind, advanced planning, and cattle trained to electric fence.

Ideally, hay is set out on pastures in late fall or early winter and placed exactly where it will be fed. Moving wagonloads of hay in dry conditions is much more efficient than hauling one or two bales at a time by tractor through the winter. I recommend setting out 1/4 to 1/3 of the needed winter hay at a time. This offers the efficiencies of moving large amounts of hay at one time and allows for recalibration of the bale grazing plan with gained experience. After a couple of winters, you will be able to better estimate your hay needs and feeding densities. Always start from a water source and move away from it. You do not need to use a back-fence during the dormant season, but it is a good idea, when practical, to set up two forward fences. One is for the current move and another is for the next move. In case something happens to the first fence, there will still be a fence up to protect the majority of remaining hay bales. The key to effective bale grazing on wet soils is to constantly move forward to new areas that haven’t seen cattle or tractor traffic all winter, and to feed at low hay densities. When fed at lower

Greg Halich

FEED HAY THE ROTATIONAL GRAZING WAY densities, these rested sods will be able to take the impact from short-term hay feeding events.

Hay feeding adds soil nutrients Each bale of hay contains mineral nutrients that either come from soil reserves or from applied fertilizer. When fed to livestock, most of these nutrients will pass through the animals and can be recycled for future forage growth. As an example, a 5x5 mixedgrass bale weighing 1,000 pounds will contain around 18 pounds of nitrogen, 6 pounds of phosphorus, and 26 pounds potassium. At pre-2021 fertilizer prices and assuming 75% of these nutrients are effectively recycled for plant growth, this would amount to around

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

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$14 in fertilizer value. If that hay sold for $35 per bale ($70 per ton), the fertilizer value would be 40% of the overall value of the hay. How and where you feed this hay will make all the difference in nutrient recovery. To be effective, nutrients need to be returned to areas on the farm that can effectively use them. If nutrients are lost before this occurs, or if nutrients are spread on areas that are already high in fertility, much or most of the potential nutrient benefit will be lost. We don’t always think about the overall process of feeding hay in terms of nutrient flow, but that is essentially what it is. You are exporting nutrients from hayfields and importing nutrients wherever you are feeding the hay. If you make your own hay, feed it during the winter, and spread commercial fertilizer back onto the hayfields and pastures every spring, you have a broken nutrient cycle. The same is true if you buy hay and still fertilize your pastures year-after-year. With conventional hay feeding methods (sacrifice areas, feeding pads, and traditional feeding barns) where manure is gathered and spread, the nutrient cycle is almost always broken. This is because approximately twothirds of the nitrogen and 90% of the potassium excreted by cattle is in the urine. Unless there is a high carbon source such as sawdust, straw, or woodchips that can tie up these nutrients, it will be almost impossible to keep them from volatilizing, running off with surface water, or leaching into the soil when fed in a concentrated feeding area.

Count the benefits The best research comparing bale grazing to conventional feeding was a master’s thesis by Paul Jungnitsch in 2008. In this Saskatchewan research, nutrient capture and subsequent forage growth with bale grazing was compared to conventional drylot feeding where manure from the same number of cows was spread back onto an equivalent amount of pasture. Soil inorganic nitrogen (readily available to plants) was 187% higher in the bale-grazed pastures while extractable potassium was 185% higher. Subsequent forage growth over the next two years was 127% greater in the bale-grazed pastures, and protein levels of this forage were 74% higher. Bale grazing was the clear winner over drylot feeding when it came to retained

nutrients and subsequent forage growth, and it wasn’t even close. Unrolling hay is another method that gives great nutrient distribution and is currently used with much greater frequency then bale grazing, at least in the eastern U.S. There are three disadvantages that come with unrolling hay the traditional way: increased hay waste, increased tractor use, and pugging pastures when unrolling in wet conditions. Bale grazing gets around these two problems by avoiding tractor use while offering near equal nutrient distribution. Some farmers envision bale grazing taking up a lot of time because cattle need to be moved around the pastures all winter, in addition to rolling hay rings and moving temporary fencing. In reality, a well-designed and executed bale-grazing system will significantly reduce both labor and machinery costs. I have seen many instances where tractor use was reduced by over 90% compared to traditional hay feeding methods. A large part of this savings comes from moving hay in bulk when the weather is dry. I used to think the improved capture of nutrients and reduced winter-feeding machinery costs were the primary benefits of bale grazing, but I’m not so sure anymore. The additional manure and hay waste deposited on the pastures will stimulate soil organisms and “prime the pump” for biological nutrient cycling. This is particularly valuable on rundown farms. Soil organic matter and improved forage growth will improve through this biological awakening. Improved animal health from bale grazing results by constantly moving the feeding area and having less associated mud problems typical with conventional feeding. Mud creates two main problems for cattle during the winter: More energy is needed to walk through it compared to solid ground, and mud that cakes on cattle robs the hide of its insulation properties. Both of these problems raise energy requirements at a time that is critical for maintaining body condition. Eliminating muddy winter conditions will greatly improve the health of cattle and is especially important for calves.

Bale grazing concerns Bale grazing originated in the High Plains of the U.S. and Canada. While it is ideally suited for this region because of its typically dry conditions

and frozen soils during the winter, bale grazing can be modified for effective use in other regions. The main reason people are afraid to try bale grazing in regions with more rainfall and warmer winters is over concerns it will damage or pug their pastures. While this is a legitimate concern, I have generally found that with good management, pugging can be kept to a minimum in most years and hay feeding areas can be easily renovated. The key to mitigate pugging is feeding at low densities and to keep the cattle moving forward. In the upper South, I generally recommend feeding densities to 2 tons of hay (roughly four, 5x5 bales) or less per acre, particularly when starting out. This point cannot be stressed enough for this region: Feeding at higher densities can result in severe pugging in wet conditions. Producers in regions where it freezes over for long periods during the winter can feed at higher densities. Hay waste from leaving bales outside for months at a time is another concern. Hay set out in late fall or early winter after temperatures have dropped will experience very little hay loss because the biological organisms that break down the hay are not active at this time of year. If you set out hay in late fall that is in good shape with a thatch largely intact, you will be amazed by how little loss occurs, even by March. With continued bale grazing, pasture nutrient levels will be built up to the point where little benefit is realized from continued hay feeding on them. At this point, and it may be years or decades before it is reached on a particular farm, the only place left to feed bales to get the full benefits of the nutrients will be on hayfields where they were harvested. I realize that probably sounds like a radical idea to some, but I have seen it done with good management, even on wet-prone soils. Bale grazing is not for everyone. It takes good management, reasonable stocking rates, cattle that respect electric fences, and a willingness to try something new to be successful. However, the benefits can be great: lush, high-fertility pastures without spending a cent on commercial fertilizer, major reductions in machinery and labor costs, and healthier wintering conditions for the cattle herd. • Next month: “From the mouths of bale grazers” January 2022 | hayandforage.com | 17

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Triumph over weeds.

When you unleash the full profit potential of your hayfields, that’s a win. Rezilon® herbicide provides hay producers a new mode of action to control unwanted grasses and broadleaf weeds for high-quality hay each and every cutting. Combined with its wider, more flexible application window that includes fall timing, Rezilon is an unbeatable preemergence herbicide. Take the first step toward victory, visit Rezilon.com. © 2021 Bayer Group. Always read and follow label instructions. Bayer, the Bayer Cross, and Rezilon® are registered trademarks of Bayer. Not all products are registered in all states. For additional product information, call toll-free 1-800-331-2867. www.environmentalscience.bayer.us. Bayer Environmental Science, a Division of Bayer CropScience LP, 5000 CentreGreen Way, Suite 400, Cary, NC 27513. VM-1021-REZ-0113-A-1


Raising Quality With Rezilon® (Indaziflam) Herbicide Apply Before Spring and See Results All Season Long


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. ©2021 Bayer CropScience LP. VM-1021-REZ-0108-A-1

Rezilon herbicide has long-lasting residual activity for extended control of weeds throughout the season. For best results, it should be applied well before weed emergence. A late winter (January-February) application can control weeds and improve quality later this spring.

Once applied, Rezilon herbicide can sit on the soil surface for some time with no degradation from sunlight while waiting on rainfall for activation.

Overall, the herbicide controls more than 60 broadleaf and annual grass weeds, including species that have developed herbicide resistance, such as ryegrass. Using Rezilon herbicide as directed also reduces the time and money hay growers would otherwise need to spend on additional herbicide applications. Ready to raise the quality of your hay production? Get ahead of spring and summer annual weeds. Scan the QR code for more information and find us online at Rezilon.com.


Matt Poore

Matt Poore

Be a successful adaptive grazing manager


HERE is a lot of discussion these days about building soil health using improved grazing strategies. The currently popular approach is being called “regenerative grazing,” and the focus is to improve soil and animal health. Key principles for regenerative grazing include short grazing periods, diverse forage species, a high level of residual forage after grazing, and long rest periods. In the Amazing Grazing program, we have focused on what we term “adaptive grazing management.” This is a little different than the regenerative grazing approach in that we believe there are many ways you can achieve better soil health and optimal system function. Adaptive management is a little hard to explain, but the adaptive grazing manager understands the basic principles of grazing management and soil health, then uses a variety of practices while constantly monitoring the outcome of their efforts. They adapt their management to improve their system based on observations.

Try new approaches In my experience, successful adaptive graziers have some general characteristics in common. If you are working

to improve your grazing skills, then knowing the attributes of these successful individuals may be helpful. Successful adaptive managers keep an open mind. As they hear about new practices or ideas, the adaptive manager will give them a try. Being reluctant to try new things will lead to stagnation and boredom with your system. Trying new approaches will keep you thinking and motivated, and the worst thing that can happen is that a new idea or practice does not fit with your system. Not every practice is for everyone, but how will you know if you don’t try? Adaptive grazing managers clearly understand the basic principles of grazing and soil health. Avoiding overgrazing is critical, and the best way to prevent it is to move animals frequently and protect the area just grazed to stop regrazing new growth. The principles of soil health include keeping the soil covered; keeping live roots in the ground year-round; diversifying plant species; minimizing major disturbances such as tillage, high levels of fertilizer, or frequent use of pesticides; and understanding your context. This latter point includes your environment, your livestock, and your personal goals.

Indicators of soil health include a dark color, a high level of biological activity, a good smell, strong soil aggregation and structure, and ease of root penetration. Being observant of these basic indicators is something an adaptive grazing manager does constantly. More objective methods of assessing soil health through soil testing are being developed. Most adaptive graziers use temporary electric fence. While it is possible to apply adaptive management skills to a system with all permanent fences, the use of temporary fence makes the job much easier and deserves strong consideration. An adaptive grazing manager needs to maintain flexibility. Being too strict on what you do makes it difficult to continue a long-term grazing system. For example, an adaptive grazier who moves animals at least once a day will occasionally need to give more than a one-day allocation of forage.

Perpetual improvement Critical thinking is the key to adaptive management and is something that helps ensure success no matter what you do in life. As day-to-day decisions are made, rarely are things done just right. This is okay as long as you evaluate everything you do and think about how it could be done better. Whatever you do, make it a reiterative learning cycle. Do what you think is best, evaluate the outcome, and learn. Adaptive grazing managers don’t lock themselves into a short-term plan or to a “system” of doing things. While planning is critical for the long-term, in the short-term, sticking to a specific plan may keep you from making the most of your system. Some people are “planners,” others are not. You can spend so much time planning daily activities that there isn’t time to carry out what was planned. When you have helpers on the farm, it

MATT POORE The author is an extension ruminant nutrition specialist at North Carolina State University.

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is critical that they also be trained in adaptive management. Simply doing what you ask them to do will not be as beneficial as encouraging them to critically evaluate and adapt how they apply your instructions. While there are short-term benefits to adaptive management, the big benefits come after a long time of applying the principles of grazing management and soil health. The benefits of each individual action stack up over time, and the outcome of each decision is influenced by all that you have done in the past. Over time, soil health will improve, your livestock will adapt to your system, and you will get better at the daily tasks. Being tenacious and persistent for several years is the only way you will see the big benefits that many adaptive graziers have achieved.

Do what you enjoy Embrace the joy of being on the land and a part of the ecological system. Adaptive management can be addict-

ing, and a successful adaptive manager is happiest when they are on the land with the livestock and are in tune with the system. If your system excludes things you really enjoy, or includes things that you don’t like, you are unlikely to persist long enough to see the long-term benefits. Over time, the adaptive manager begins to look at their farm as one system rather than a collection of the many pieces. Don’t reduce thinking to one specific thing. Go to the pasture and take time to make observations about the soil, livestock, and pastures without focusing on each specific one. If you can observe the whole scene and see a problem without looking at each individual component, then you are making progress. An experienced adaptive manager sees problems without having to look for them. Adaptive grazing management can help you work effectively with what is a very dynamic system. Be open minded, flexible, and tenacious as you apply the

principles of regenerative grazing and soil health. This will help you build a system that is unique and focused to your specific goals. •

KEYS TO ADAPTIVE GRAZING • Keep an open mind. • Be flexible. • Understand major concepts of grazing and soil health management. • Critically evaluate everything and learn from your mistakes. • Don’t be too tied to one “system” or a plan. • Stay interested in the complexity of the system. Learn all you can. • Keep on. Be tenacious. Don’t give up. • See the whole without looking at the parts. • Enjoy and appreciate the day-today activities.











Contact Mountain View Seeds at 503.588.7333 for a free 2021 MVS Forage & Cover Crop Guide www.mtviewseeds.com January 2022 | hayandforage.com | 21

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All photos: Sydney Meyer


by Sydney Meyer


OME of Jason Van Kooten’s earliest memories are of sitting on the back window ledge of a Farmall 1466 tractor, pulling a chopper while alfalfa was being chopped for his grandfather’s dairy cows. Forage harvesting is deeply engrained in generations of Van Kooten’s family, and today he owns a custom forage harvesting business in Volga, S.D. Van Kooten Ag Service stays busy with custom alfalfa and corn silage harvesting, hauling, and packing. The business also provides hay grinding services and does cornstalk chopping and baling. Van Kooten is a fifth-generation dairy farmer originally from central Iowa. He spent the early part of his career working on the family dairy farm with his dad and brother before moving to Volga in 2003. There, Van Kooten started helping a friend with forage harvesting. The following year, he bought a chopper from his dad and began custom chopping for producers in the area.

This year, Van Kooten’s crew chopped around 20,000 acres of alfalfa and 12,000 acres of silage for dairy and beef producers within about a 50-mile radius of Volga. “I have done forage harvesting my entire life, and in a way, I don’t know any better,” Van Kooten said. “I love doing this, and it truly doesn’t feel like I’m working.”

A good crew Van Kooten Ag Service is truly a family effort. His wife, Daleena, oversees the bookkeeping and cooking for their crew. Several of their four daughters — Deana, Danielle, Darla, and Daphney — and their spouses are involved in some aspect of the operation, from operating equipment to making meals for the crew. “Sometimes, it drives my family nuts, but most of our conversations lead back to this business,” Van Kooten said. Additionally, he has six full-time employees and a lot of seasonal help. He hires several men from South Africa to work for him six to eight months of the year through the government’s H-2A program. This year, he has 10 employees from South Africa, including

several who have worked for him in previous years as well. “It’s really important to me to have the same crew each year, if possible, because we really want them to be a part of our family and our team,” he said. During silage chopping season, Van Kooten’s team expands to include 56 truck drivers, 10 chopper operators, and 10 push tractor operators. They run 24 hours a day during corn harvest, with shifts of 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Much of their help during corn harvest comes from friends and family. Having a close relationship with his employees is a priority for Van Kooten. “A lot of people say not to get too close to your employees, but I am guilty of doing that,” he said. “It’s really important to me to have a personal relationSYDNEY MEYER The author is a freelance writer who lives in Brookings, S.D. Raised on a cattle ranch near Spearfish, S.D., she earned an agricultural communications degree from South Dakota State University.

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ship with them, and we often spend time outside of work together.” He emphasized that all the pieces of the puzzle are equally important when it comes to chopping. “I try to get my whole crew on the same page that each job is just as important as the next, whether that’s running a chopper or a tractor,” Van Kooten said. “Chopping is a lot like running a relay — everyone has to work together to be successful.”

Full-service harvesting Van Kooten Ag Service offers full-service forage harvesting, so they cut, merge, chop, haul, and pack alfalfa. Van Kooten works with the producers to evaluate when their alfalfa is ready to harvest. He relies partly on the moisture meter in the Claas harvesters he runs, and heavily on his own intuition by handling the alfalfa and breaking stems. Powered by Fendt tractors, this was Van Kooten’s third season running two Claas triple mowers, which he said was a game changer for their business. Prior to owning the triple mowers, his customers cut their own alfalfa, but now his crew cuts most of it. “Using triple mowers has changed chopping immensely for us and really improved our efficiency,” Van Kooten said. A 24-hour wait period between cutting and chopping is typical. However, this year Van Kooten experienced a memorable first because of the dry conditions – they cut an alfalfa field at 10 a.m. and chopped it at 4 p.m. Four cuttings are typical for his customers, but this year it really varied due to dry weather and a significant variation in rainfall. If the alfalfa gets too dry when they are chopping, Van Kooten will apply water using a tank that is pulled behind the chopper. Typically, this isn’t a problem, but due to hot and dry conditions this summer it was a more common harvest strategy. Once the alfalfa is chopped, he does a squeeze test on it to gauge the moisture. Van Kooten harvests corn silage at a 65% to 68% moisture content. He uses the moisture meter in his Claas harvesters to confirm moisture levels. He sometimes also uses a Koster tester or microwave to monitor silage moisture content. To pack the chopped alfalfa and silage, Van Kooten buys the heaviest tractors he can find and then adds more weight to them. He runs two tractors per chopper and has them drive as slow as possible on the piles. “It is extremely

Van Kooten Ag Service custom chopped about 20,000 acres of alfalfa in 2021. The business was started in 2004.

Efficiency rules

Jason and Daleena Van Kooten own and operate Van Kooten Ag Service, a custom forage harvesting business near Volga, S.D.

important for the tractors to stay on the pile the entire time while packing and to pack from all directions to minimize spoilage,” he said. Van Kooten Ag Service also grinds hay for about 20 dairies and 50 beef producers year-round, using two Haybuster grinders. During the winter, they are grinding hay every day. “One of the biggest challenges I face is dealing with trucks breaking down,” Van Kooten said. “Our trucks have a rough life, and we are really hard on them. I’m thankful for a great crew that gets our trucks back up and running.”

Over the last couple years, Van Kooten has learned that profitability is highly linked to efficiency. The primary way he maximizes efficiency is by having the equipment ready to go before arriving at the field. Additionally, he strives to get all his work lined up in one area so that minimal time is spent moving equipment up and down the road. Van Kooten is also trying to maximize the efficiency of his choppers by being able to complete an entire 12-hour shift without stopping to refuel. This was accomplished by adding fuel containment capacity to the machines. “At the end of the day, though, I really do believe that the most important part of being efficient is everybody getting along and having fun,” he said. “When everyone is enjoying the job, efficiency will naturally come along with that.” If he continues to have a good crew, Van Kooten can see his business growing and expanding. “The reason we are successful isn’t because I’m a smart guy — I barely graduated high school — but it goes back to the generations who came before me and how they taught me to treat people fair and not to stop working,” he said. “I owe a lot of my success to the fact that I have been surrounded with people a lot smarter than me, and they have given me the opportunity to be where we are today.” • January 2022 | hayandforage.com | 23

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Updated publication advocates alfalfa grazing Hay & Forage Grower is featuring results of research projects funded through the Alfalfa Checkoff, officially named the U.S. Alfalfa Farmer Research Initiative, administered by National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA). The checkoff program facilitates farmer-funded research.


ORE U.S. farmers should consider alfalfa a premium-quality livestock feed for grazing, said Ray Smith, University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist. He and colleagues recently updated the 30-yearold Grazing Alfalfa publication — using Alfalfa Checkoff funds — to explain why the crop is a great grazing choice. “There’s a real misconception in much of the U.S. that you can’t graze alfalfa or that grazing the legume would not be a potential first option,” Smith said. “We usually think about grazing it as maybe a third or fourth option, like after a frost RAY SMITH or during drought Funding: $4,714 stress when you don’t have enough growth to cut hay. Those are still viable options; they’re just not the only uses for the legume,” he added. “Alfalfa is the perfect grazing crop,” Smith asserted. “It makes its own nitrogen, it’s very productive, and it has a long growing season. It has always been an important crop, or legume of choice, in pasture settings or pasture combinations with hay across the Northern Great Plains of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and up into western Canada.” The legume’s deep root system, tolerance to drought, ability to fix nitrogen, and productivity sold those Plains farmers on the value of planting it in mixed stands since the early 1900s, Smith said. As for the rest of the country, Smith thinks beef producers utilizing intensive forage systems and dairies moving toward total mixed rations began looking at alfalfa solely as a premium stored feed, harvested as hay and haylage. “Alfalfa was off the radar for grazing across much of the U.S. It was more

difficult to manage because it requires an average four-week rest period and rotational grazing,” he said. But by 1990, then University of Georgia forage breeder Joe Bouton had developed Alfagraze, the first grazing-tolerant alfalfa. “Joe’s work showed alfalfa could be grazed and that varieties could be improved. But it also made people realize any alfalfa variety would survive grazing if managed properly. Grazing-tolerant varieties give the advantage of survival if you don’t manage the crop exactly right,” Smith said. Since then, interest in alfalfa for grazing has slowly increased, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years as fertilizer prices have greatly fluctuated, he said. The trend toward organics, with USDA organic certification requiring 30% of feed intake from milking herds come from grazing pastures, also has helped. Work on integrating alfalfa with bermudagrass “opened up options for

alfalfa,” Smith said. This work showed the legume could be used in more than pure stands in the Southeast, and as a management tool, he added. “So, by planting it with bermudagrass, you are enhancing the grass, getting higher quality, higher yield, and saving a huge amount on the nitrogen cost you have with bermudagrass, since it makes use of nitrogen alfalfa naturally fixes,” Smith said.

Expanded focus The updated publication also outlines the widely accepted practice of California and Arizona hay growers contracting to have sheep or goats graze dormant alfalfa fields in fall and winter. Sheep or goat producers are provided low-cost feed to fatten their animals while alfalfa growers gain weed and weevil control. The animals feed on weeds as well as alfalfa stems where weevils lay their eggs.

PROJECT RESULTS • The original Grazing Alfalfa publication (left) was updated (right) to include the latest data, recommendations, and products.

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Smith worked with Krista Lea and Jimmy Henning, University of Kentucky; Dan Putnam, University of California-Davis; and Daniel Basigalup, INTA (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria), Argentina. They greatly expanded the publication to include specific details, such as what to do if dealing with bloat and an explanation of how rotational grazing works. The opening

chapter explains that other countries around the world graze alfalfa. “With this publication, we are reminding people this is a premium crop,” Smith said. “We’re reminding them, or getting them to think for the first time, that alfalfa is also a good grazing crop. You’re not taking as many nutrients off the land, and it solves a lot of issues when we talk about summer

slump with cool-season grasses. Alfalfa is the perfect choice to take care of the summer slump, and we’ve got much better disease resistance and insect resistance than we had back in the ’80s and ’90s,” he added. The 16-page Grazing Alfalfa: Economic and Sustainable Use of a High-Value Crop is available on the alfalfa.org website for ordering or as a PDF download. •

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by John Goeser

A corn crop with multiple personalities Total tract NDF digestibility Figure 1: Total tract NDF digestibility for Eastern corn silage

Crop year


ITH the 2021 corn silage now in storage, we’re gaining a clear understanding of what its nutritional value will bring to dairy and beef operations. The energetic value attributed to silage comes from its carbohydrate fraction, which is comprised largely of fiber and starch, so that’s where we’ll focus our attention. Fiber and starch content and digestibility dictate roughly 85% of the energetic value of corn silage. We also have a relatively clear understanding that the energetic value in corn silage is influenced by numerous factors, including seed genetics, management and agronomic inputs, maturity at harvest, particle size, and the growing environment. After the crop is harvested, fermentation is also known to improve silage quality. However, we’ll focus on the environmental influence upon quality and recognize a new crop that appears to be markedly different, depending on the growing environment. One could even think of this year’s corn crop as having multiple personalities from a fiber and starch standpoint.

2021 2020 2019 30





TTNDFD % Figure 2: Total tract NDF digestibility for Midwest corn silage

One consistent aspect of 2021 is that the season carried plenty of heat units for growing corn. Slow and delayed growth was not an issue this past year across the U.S.; however, adequate moisture was a substantial concern for the West and upper Great Plains and continues to plague those regions. While plant breeders have made great gains in breeding for improved drought and stress tolerance, a robust corn crop still needs both heat and moisture. For those farming in the eastern U.S., the crop had adequate moisture along with heat and sunlight. This resulted in some large silage yields. However, a big yield often trends with marginal digestibility thanks to “sturdy” stalks and harder grain. The fiber in silage this year looks sturdy for eastern U.S. growers, as evidenced with lower total tract neutral detergent fiber (NDF) digestibility for silage in Figure 1. This observation likely relates to ample heat and moisture for growers in the region. When either moisture or heat are missing at critical points in the season, corn plants will be stressed. Following stress, yield, plant health, or quality can be affected. For those in the Midwest through to the western U.S., moisture stress during the growing season likely influenced quality. The moisture stress early in the season may have contributed toward better fiber quality this year such as shown in Figure 2 for Midwestern growers. Here the growing environment contributed toward a different crop quality “personality” for the Midwest compared to the East.

Lower starch digestibility From a grain and starch component standpoint, rainfall eventually came to help finish the crop. This late-season rainfall, coupled with more than adequate heat, likely boosted grain yields and bushel weight for the eastern U.S. Higher bushel weights are well received by grain farmers but can be negative in silage due to harder grain and less digestible starch by dairy or beef cattle. Lower grain digestibility appears to be more prevalent for 2021 silage in the Midwest or East, with a roughly 5 to 10 percentage unit drop in rumen digestibility (data not shown). While Western silage quality appears to buck the trend and

Crop year

A unique growing season 2021 2020 2019 30





TTNDFD % The black vertical lines represent the 15th, 50th, and 85th percentiles for each crop year distribution in results, respectively. Samples analyzed by Rock River Laboratory 2019 through 2021.

is presenting as average relative to years past, Midwestern and Eastern silage quality are clearly unique this year. If fiber and starch quality in silage could be thought of as two different personalities contributing to crop quality, then the silage quality outcome can certainly be thought of as a split personality. Moisture stress early coupled with rainfall and heat during grain fill could help explain the duality within the crop, with improved fiber quality for some but depressed starch quality for many. To check your crop’s personality, make sure to assess the silage’s fiber and starch digestibility measures. Benchmark your silage relative to neighbors as well as for years past. While the outcome may be unique this year, any split fiber or starch characteristics were due to the split nature of the growing season and were beyond our control. •

JOHN GOESER The author is the director of nutrition research and innovation with Rock River Lab Inc, and adjunct assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dairy Science Department.

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by Adam Verner

Minimize your forage harvester downtime


OW that cold weather has arrived, it offers plenty of time to work in the farm shop. Winter is the time to go over equipment from top-to-bottom and make sure it is ready for spring. Most people have a plan for servicing equipment themselves while others rely on assistance from their dealers. Some manufacturers even offer incentives to bring machines to your local dealer for service. I suggest taking advantage of the opportunity to have an experienced mechanic look over your forage harvester. There are lots of dealers that offer parts discounts on the shop work they complete and for the parts you order to stock shelves at your farm. One of the most extensive winter checks that we perform is on forage harvesters and heads. This inspection can take a few days, depending on the chopper. Our technician goes over each machine guided by a 20-page checklist. The list is almost too involved for most owners, but we encourage those who want to help with the inspection to do so. This allows the operator to become more familiar with their harvester. This isn’t a practice that will work for everyone or for every machine, but we have several customers who prefer to observe and help during the inspection. Dealers offer different options when it comes to completing winter service. Most dealerships find that their mechanics are far more productive in their own shops rather than at the farm with the customer. So, some dealers have offered to split payment or completely pay for the hauling of the machine to and from the dealership. Even so, the cost of shipping the unit can usually be a wash if you must pay for a couple service calls to your farm to complete the work.

Start in the cab Let’s go over a few of the areas that we cover while completing a chopper inspection. One of the easiest places to start is in the cab. Operator comfort on those 12-plus hour days is important. Be sure to check the windshield wipers,

fluid, and the often neglected cab air filter. Clean the air intake as well. Double check all air conditioner components such as the evaporator and fans while inspecting the top of the cab. Once in the cab, remove all the panels on the console to inspect the wiring and for cleaning. Make sure there are some spare fuses stashed away in in the panel for emergencies. Operate all of the lights to make sure they are functioning properly. Next, let’s get to the meat of the cutter — the intake system. Each manufacturer has its own way of feeding, cutting, and processing, but they all do the same thing. Starting at the feed rolls, check the bearings and the fluid levels on the gearboxes. It’s also a good time to check the universal joints that supply the power to the rolls. The smooth roll scraper on the back can often be overlooked during the season, so winter is a good time to flip or change the bar. Also, check the electrical components of the feed roll housing, namely the metal detector and rock protector to make sure they do not have any damage and are functioning properly. Once the intake is complete, we usually move on to the drum and inspect its bearings and knives. In south Georgia, we typically don’t have to change our knives until after winter annuals are chopped, but every part of the country and every machine is different. Many operators choose to start out the year with a new grinding stone, and there is no easier time to take it apart than when the intake housing is off the harvester. We also manually grease all of the grease banks and fittings and inspect the auto-lube system to make sure every fitting is taking grease. Whether the kernel processor is in or out of the machine, inspect the rolls, springs, and bearings for any play, chips, or wear. Make sure that wear liners are not worn through after pulling the processor out of the harvester.

On to the blower Inspect the blower and remove any build up on the paddles or in the accelerator housing. Be sure to check the

blower bearings closely as they drive other aspects of the machine. Also, when inspecting the pulleys that drive each belt, make sure there is nothing packed in the grooves of the pulley, which can cause vibration. Moving on to the transition and spout, inspect the worm gear and spout pivot point for wear. The liners in the spout and the hydraulic cylinder on the flipper should also be checked for wear and functionality. Most units are using cameras, and now is a good time to clean them and make sure there is no damage to the cables running up the spout. The drive components, main gearbox, and cooling section are major parts of the harvester and dictate how many tons can be processed each day. Be sure to check the main drive belt for any worn spots or separation, both of which can be a source of vibration. Most main drive gearboxes have some sort of filtration system that needs to be changed annually. This is also a good time to inspect the precleaning screen and brushes on the air intake if installed. This screen is one part that has caused at least a few hours of down time for everyone who has cut silage. Carefully check over the engine. The engine mounting bolts are often overlooked but take as much abuse as any bolts on the unit. The hydraulic system can be complicated and may require extra assistance from your dealer to check for the correct pressures at the test ports. Jacking up the cutter to test and calibrate all drive functions is also a good practice. Running the complete system to calibrate the lifting cylinders, drum angle, central lubrication, and spout is important. If no error codes show up, then you have had a successful inspection. Finally, be sure to retorque all wheels and drive components, and then make sure all fluids are at recommended levels. All of this seems like a lot of work, but the time spent in the shop during the winter translates to less down time in the field next summer. •

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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crop or the residue from a previous cover crop. More water goes into the soil and less runs off or evaporates, which makes the land more resilient against a future drought. In Oklahoma, where a common winter pasture forage is wheat, using a summer cover crop to protect what might normally be bare soil is a good insulation strategy. Rather than letting the sun “bake” the water out of the field, plant a cover crop, let it grow big enough to cover the ground, then terminate the cover crop and use its residue to protect the soil. The dead plants aren’t using water, the soil surface is covered, and water is not being lost to evaporation.

Keep nutrients cycling Noble Research Institute

Cover crops enhance our ecosystems by Jim Johnson


URING fall, many producers in the South put a cover crop plan in to action — perhaps seeding small grains, winter peas, vetch, or clovers into their dormant warm-season, perennial grass pastures. Those grazing wheat pasture this winter may be planning a subsequent summer cover crop of sorghum, cowpeas, sunn hemp, sunflower, or other warm-season plants following harvest or graze-out. At the Noble Research Institute, we look at cover crops as a versatile tool to consider when striving to improve the overall ecosystem of that land, which is more than just soil. It is a living system of communities that work together through four interconnected, naturally occurring ecosystem processes. These are the energy cycle, water cycle, nutrient cycle, and community dynamics. Let’s look at how cover crops can benefit each of the four.

Capture the sun’s energy The energy cycle is the process by which plants use the sun’s energy to turn carbon dioxide into food for themselves and soil microbes, which in turn become forage for grazing animals and ultimately protein for humans. Cover crops give us the opportunity

to capture additional solar energy during more of the year. We also can improve the capture of solar energy by having different leaf shapes, leaf types, and architecture — long leaves, short leaves, tall plants, and short plants. Diverse plant types develop a more dense canopy to collect solar energy for the plant, the soil microbial community, and our grazing animals.

Improved soil properties Water cycles through the soil ecosystem by means of evaporation, precipitation, infiltration, and transpiration. Just as cover crops add a variety of above-ground architecture options, they also provide different beneficial architectures below ground, such as deeper, potentially compaction-breaking roots that help open up the soil. And as they attract soil life like earthworms, bacteria, and fungi, the cover crop roots help form good soil aggregates, which are clumps of individual soil particles stuck together that create pore spaces to allow water to soak into the ground and infiltrate. Another way cover crops help the water cycle is by reducing raindrop impact. Rather than having bare soil exposed to the potential for both water and wind erosion as well as being subject to excess evaporation, it is protected by either the growing cover

The nutrient cycle is basically the transfer of nutrients between living organisms and nonliving materials, with bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic life in the soil playing important roles in cycling nutrients from air and water so they are accessible to forage crops and the animals that eat them. Again, the diversity of roots and root architectures that comes from a mixed cover crop can mine nutrients from different soil layers that our main forage crop doesn’t normally reach. Also, all plants are capturing energy, using photosynthesis to create sugar, and then leaking sugar from their roots. That leaked sugar attracts soil microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and actinomycetes — and feeds them. In turn, the microbes provide nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and all the secondary nutrients to the plants. Cover crops are a way that we can feed those soil microbes and benefit the nutrient cycle. Another way to help the cycle is if we are grazing cover crops and recycling nutrients back into the soil as manure.

Diversity drives community Community dynamics are the changes to the ecosystem community structure and composition over time, including changes in microbiology,

JIM JOHNSON The author is a senior agriculture consultant with the Noble Research Institute, Ardmore, Okla.

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plant, and animal life. A high diversity of plants and functional groups will improve community dynamics. Adding cover crops to monoculture pastures improves plant diversity and ultimately community dynamics. A simplified way to think of it is like a town (community) that has only accountants versus one that has accountants, bakers, carpenters, doctors, electricians, firefighters, graphic designers, and so forth. Another example of using cover crops with forage production is combining them with corn grown for silage. Harvesting silage can leave the soil bare, with no protective residue. Two effective ways to protect the soil and make that system better is to either include a cover crop with the corn so that the plant cover is already growing when the silage is taken off, or to plant a cover crop immediately after chopping silage.

A long-term investment While there are costs associated with using cover crops, mainly for seed and planting, it’s helpful to look

The land is a living system of communities that work together through four interconnected, naturally occurring processes known as “ecosystem processes.”

A higher functioning energy cycle, water cycle, nutrient cycle, and better community dynamics all add up to enhanced production in the long run, which leads to improved profits: However, cover crops are not a silver bullet. They are just one tool of many — like controlled burns, grazing, and adequate plant recovery time — to use in managing forage and grazing lands for optimum production and soil health. •

at growing cover crops as a longterm investment in your land and soil health. Even in the short term, it’s possible to offset input costs like herbicides and insecticides when the cover crops deter weeds by covering the soil and control pests by providing habitat for beneficial insects. Cover crops may also provide nitrogen and other major and minor nutrients that then don’t have to be purchased.


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FORAGE IQ Northwest Hay Expo January 19 and 20, Kennewick, Wash. Details: wa-hay.org Virginia Winter Forage Conferences January 18 to 21 (four locations) Details: vaforages.org/events GrassWorks Grazing Conference January 20 to 22, Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Details: grassworks.org Cornbelt Cow-Calf Conference January 22, Ottumwa, Iowa Details: cornbeltcowcalf.com Western Alfalfa Seed Growers Assn. Conference January 23 to 25, Las Vegas, Nev. Details: wasga.org U.S. Custom Harvesters Convention January 27 to 29, Amarillo, Texas Details: uschi.com Southwest Hay & Forage Conference January 27 and 28, Ruidoso, N.M. Details: nmhay.com Driftless Region Beef Conference January 27 and 28, Dubuque, Iowa Details: aep.iastate.edu/beef Cattle Industry Convention NCBA Trade Show February 1 to 3, Houston, Texas Details: convention.ncba.org World Ag Expo February 8 to 10, Tulare, Calif. Details: worldagexpo.com Idaho Hay & Forage Conference February 17, Twin Falls, Idaho Details: idahohay.com SW Missouri Spring Forage Conference February 22, Springfield, Mo. Details: springforageconference.com Midwest Forage Symposium February 22 and 23, Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Details: midwestforage.org


High hay prices and input costs Hay prices showed no signs of weakening as fall transitioned to winter. In fact, the hay market was as strong as it has ever been for the final quarter of the year. Hay export totals were also ahead of one year ago even with the plethora of transportation challenges. Currently, the only negative for hay

producers is the huge price hike for crop inputs such as fertilizer, chemicals, and seed. This will surely impact hay budgets in 2022. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of the beginning of mid-December. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted.•

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

Price $/ton 340 265 265 225 225-230 225 220-255 200-280 220-310 200-250 220 250-285 280-300 300-315 Price $/ton 330 270-275 250 305-330 180-193 235 225 215-290 190-205 160-200 325 200 200 210 350 300 260 350 240-250 250-260 290 230 240-260 Price $/ton 300 240-265 170-175 140-175 195 150-175 150-230 180-185 120-160 275-300 140-150 160 130 160-250

South Dakota (Corsica) (d) Texas (west) Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb Wyoming (western) Fair-quality alfalfa California (southeast) California (southeast)-ssb Idaho (south central) Kansas (northwest)-lrb Kansas (southwest) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri (d) Montana Oklahoma (northwest)-lrb Pennsylvania (southeast) (d) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Texas (Panhandle)-lrb Washington (d) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Premium lrb (d) Alabama-Good lrb California (southeast)-Premium California (southeast)-Premium ssb Oklahoma (north central)-Premium Texas (central)-Premium ssb Bromegrass hay Kansas (southeast)-Premium (d) Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good (d) Orchardgrass hay Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Premium ssb (o) Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good Teff hay California (central SJV)-Good ssb (d) California (southeast)-Premium ssb Kansas (northwest)-Good Oklahoma (northwest)-Good/Prem lrb Timothy hay Montana-Premium ssb (d) Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good Washington-Premium ssb Oat hay California (central SJV)-ssb Kansas (south central)-Good Straw Idaho (south central) Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas Minnesota (Sauk Centre) (d) Montana Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

175-185 235-260 185-200 135-145 200 Price $/ton 205 240 210-225 170 185 200-235 100-125 260-275 148 150-185 160 175 240 Price $/ton 110-133 68-100 205 280 120 280-330 Price $/ton 110-120 120 Price $/ton 325 340-360 145-280 Price $/ton 175 250 165 85 Price $/ton 360 340-350 150-275 320-345 Price $/ton 260 135 Price $/ton 135 113-133 60-85 85-105 100 100-145 90


(d) (d)



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

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NDFD30. But it’s too simplistic to just think that hybrids perform equally across geographies and soil types. A lot of dairies are on the fringes of great corn ground, and they thank their ancestors every spring for settling on extremely heavy or light soil, in a floodplain, or on the side of a hill. Focusing on a healthy plant — think irrigation, fungicide, and soil health — can lead to corn silage with a NDFD30 in the range of 60% to 62%. You might have to dig deeper than one 30-hour fiber digestibility metric. Looking at 12-hour digestibility might also be helpful. High-producing cows have a high turnover rate in their rumens and require a lot of digestion up front. Don’t forget the undigestible fiber (uNDF240). High levels are essentially a filler in the diet and can limit intake. Measurements like acid levels (acetic,

lactic, and butyric) and pH can often help us understand problems with fermentation. Beyond lab analyses for mycotoxins, have a discussion with the agronomist. What did they see in the field? Exhibit 4 was taken in 2021. Can we anticipate a problem here?

Prevent the next crime With the evidence in hand, there are two things left to do. First, if possible, adjust for the corn silage on hand. Dispose of moldy corn silage, adjust rations for starch digestibility, and maybe add straw to counter particle length or add a binder to account for mycotoxins. Second, prevent the crime from happening again. This usually starts in the year before corn silage is planted. Hybrid selection, purchasing and committing to fungicides, and

buying a quality inoculant are often decisions that need to be made three to six months before the seed is placed in the soil. If processing and storage were the culprits, plan a harvest meeting with your chopper operator. Is the chopper maintained, are there enough tires to fully cover the pile, or does another pack tractor need to be added? Explain the issue and work toward a solution — but perhaps omit the crime scene analogies. •

PAUL DYK The author is a dairy nutrition consultant with GPS Dairy Consulting LLC and is based in Malone, Wis.

4 Safe practices 4 Educational Resources




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by observing the characteristics of his soil. Planting cover crops added roots to the ground, which promoted a well-aggregated soil structure. This improved plant growth and water infiltration, which contribute to a reduced risk of water runoff and erosion.

REGENERATIVE ROOTS by Amber Friedrichsen


REEN Pasture Farms in central Missouri comprises many fields that were once idle cropland shrouded with shrubs and trees. It wasn’t until Greg Judy, owner of the farm, took over these acres that they were transformed into a highly productive grazing system. While Judy can measure his success by the performance of his cattle, he is more likely to do so by the quality of his forages and the health of his soil. At the Heart of America Grazing Conference in Mt. Vernon, Ill., Judy spoke about his career as a regenerative grazier. Most producers depend on the land to feed their livestock, but Judy is more concerned with how his livestock can feed the land. “If we feed the microbes in the soil, these microbes will feed our livestock,” Judy asserted. “By doing so, we are going to have good forage, healthy animals, a better environment, and a happy livelihood on the farm.”

Look for litter When Judy started grazing cattle, he moved multiple herds two times a day. Not only did this require ample time and labor, but the high stocking rate and short recovery period between rotations negatively impacted his forage’s ability to grow. Eventually, Judy combined his herds into one and established a more flexible grazing approach. When forages grow fast, Judy moves his cattle quickly. When plant growth slows, so do the timings of his rotations. Judy also evaluates plants before his

cattle enter a new paddock. “Make sure your plants are fully recovered,” Judy said. “If the tip of the plant is sharp, it is fully regrown. If it’s blunt on the end, that means the plant hasn’t fully regrown.” Once cattle have started grazing a new paddock, Judy makes sure not to leave them in there for too long. Animals can selectively graze the most palatable plants and leave undesirable ones, leading to uneven regrowth. He recommended rotating cattle when one-third of the forages in the pasture are grazed, one-third are trampled, and one-third are left standing. This ensures some palatable plants will be available in the future. “All the litter that is trampled to the ground is consumed by earthworms,” Judy said. “They eat it and produce earthworm castings, which have a pH of 7. We need a lot more of these castings, and the way to get them is by feeding worms trampled plants.” In addition to leaving trampled plants on the ground, Judy advocated for planting cover crops. This past summer, he drilled a mix of nine different crop species into tall fescue. Despite the drought-like conditions he and many other Midwestern farmers encountered, Judy said his soil was better equipped to hold water because of the cover crops he planted. “Once I drilled in that crop, it didn’t rain the rest of the summer,” Judy recalled. “However, there was enough fertility and moisture in the soil, and we got an unbelievable amount of wealth without any rain.” Judy justified the health of his field

Green Pasture Farms

Stretch the stockpile Months before the first snowfall of the year, Judy begins stockpiling tall fescue. He grazes it and unrolls bales throughout the winter for animals to strip graze. Judy acknowledged some forage could be wasted in this process, but he said the benefits of this practice outweigh the costs. One of the benefits he noted was added fertilizer in a field since cattle are grazing year-round. “As a result of more manure in the pasture, we are going to grow more grass next year,” Judy stated. “The grass is going to be thicker, greener, and plant spacing is going to be closer together.” When the temperatures begin to rise in the spring and forages begin to flourish, Judy keeps feeding his animals some stockpiled fescue. Cows can encounter digestive issues when their diets transition to fresh grass, so continuing to feed small amounts of stockpiled fescue can help them maintain their weight during the start of calving season. “We manage our winter stockpile so that in March and into the first week of April we always have some left,” Judy explained. “When the cows grab a big bite of green grass, they are also getting some stockpiled dry matter. They only need about three or four bites of this to balance out the rumen.” Although it is important for cows to maintain weight before calving, Judy’s goal is for his animals to gain weight at this time. He said this can improve a cow’s breed-back rate, alleviating the biggest expense to his operation — open cows. Judy assesses the body condition of his cows to not only monitor their weight gain, but also to assess the prosperity of his entire grazing system. • 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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