Hay & Forage Grower - February 2022

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February 2022

It’s all about water in the SJV What’s that hay worth?

pg 10

pg 16

From the mouths of bale graziers

pg 26

Hay yield and quality impact feeding costs pg 30 Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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February 2022 · VOL. 37 · No. 2 MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer L. Yurs ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg jzilverberg@hayandforage.com ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com



These Buckeye haymakers embrace innovation Stuart Foos and John Russell are problem solvers and dedicated to haymaking efficiency. From humble beginnings, J.D. Russell Hay & Straw now produces about 200,000 small square bales per year.

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 10 Dairy Feedbunk 12 The Pasture Walk 16 Beef Feedbunk


22 Alfalfa Checkoff


Grazing for the present and future Scott Mericka got his start as a grazing farm apprentice. He hopes to give another young person the same opportunity.

24 Forage Gearhead 32 Feed Analysis

Stockpiled alfalfa-bermudagrass helps cut purchased inputs Alfalfa is making a comeback in the South as more farmers are finding it to be a good dance partner with bermudagrass.





















38 Forage IQ 38 Hay Market Update


One of three selfpropelled bale wagons picks up two-tie alfalfaorchardgrass hay bales at J.D. Russell Hay & Straw located near Pemberville, Ohio. The operation consists of 1,000 owned and rented acres and incorporates many unique technologies to efficiently produce hay and straw for horse markets in multiple states. Read more about this impressive operation starting on page 6. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2022 W. D. Hoard & Sons Company. All rights reserved. Published six times annually in January, February, March, April/May, August/September and November by W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Tel: 920-563-5551. Fax: 920-563-7298. Email: info@hayandforage.com. Website: www.hayandforage.com. Periodicals Postage paid at Fort Atkinson, Wis., and additional mail offices. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. Non-qualified subscribers may subscribe at: USA: 1 year $20 U.S.; Outside USA: Canada & Mexico, 1 year $80 U.S.; All other countries, 1 year $120 U.S. For Subscriber Services contact: Hay & Forage Grower, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 USA; call: 920-563-5551, email: info@hayandforage.com or visit: www.hayandforage.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to HAY & FORAGE GROWER, 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Subscribers who have provided a valid email address may receive the Hay & Forage Grower email newsletter eHay Weekly.

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It could be worse

T Mike Rankin Managing Editor

HE year was 2008, and the cost of urea nitrogen was tipping the scales at over 60 cents per pound. Only a few years earlier, it was 30 cents per pound. Farmers were ready to rebel, and who could blame them? No meeting or newsletter was complete without addressing the issue and offering words of sympathy and options. It was a long-running nitrogen pity party that winter, even with higher commodity prices. A similar non-festive atmosphere occurred in 2012. Last year began with urea nitrogen costing less than 40 cents per unit. With each passing month in 2021, nitrogen costs soared. We blew by 70 cents per unit like a Corvette passing a 1963 Rambler station wagon on blocks. The price now sits at somewhere near $1 per pound of nitrogen, and once again we check-in at the fertilizer Heartbreak Hotel. So, what gives? Any number of reasons are being offered for the current state of fertilizer prices, but natural gas prices and availability are cited as major culprits. In the early 1900s, German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed a process to convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia using a reaction with hydrogen. The chemical reaction demands heat, and natural gas has long been used to provide the source for that heat. Hence, expensive natural gas has always equated to expensive fertilizer. There are other reasons why fertilizer prices have soared. It’s been my impression over the years that they like to follow grain commodity prices, and we’ll leave it at that. There doesn’t appear to be much nitrogen relief in the immediate future. Of course, phosphorus and potassium fertilizer prices, along with other crop inputs, are also creating carnage in checking accounts. Many of you reading this are beef, dairy, or sheep producers and sit in a much better position than your row-crop brethren. That’s because most livestock producers have two magic fertilizer bullets — manure and legumes. With intentional effort, these two components of a dairy or livestock production system can whittle a fertilizer invoice down to the size of a business card. Manure management today is far better than it was 30 years ago. Admittedly, a large chunk of that progress was driven by regulation. However, a long run of tight margins, even with lower

fertilizer prices, also contributed. Manure is no longer dumped on terminal alfalfa fields that are easy to drive over. This practice added enough nitrogen for two or three corn crops, but most of it leached to groundwater. Manure is now or should be targeted to monoculture grass crops, including corn, that are not following legumes. There has also been a trend for grazing livestock producers to intentionally spread manure across pastures through carefully designed summer grazing and winter-feeding systems. Isn’t it interesting that a pasture system designed for optimum grass utilization is also often best for manure distribution? And that brings us to legumes. Legume forage crops accomplish what Haber and Bosch took years to perfect, only without the need for natural gas. A legume not only fixes its own nitrogen, but it’s also willing to share with neighbors or subsequent grass crops. In most situations (sandy soils excluded), no nitrogen is needed for a corn crop following alfalfa and significant reductions can be made for second-year corn. Legumes also make it possible to eliminate the need for applied nitrogen in pastures. Spin seeds on or drill them in — a 30% legume composition or more will boost quality and require you to only see your fertilizer salesperson at youth baseball games. Capture the power of manure and legumes, but also don’t cut profits by not using commercial fertilizer where it’s needed. The most profitable decision you make this year might still be to apply that first pound (and then some) of nitrogen to a starved grass crop, even at $1 per unit. For phosphorus and potassium, it’s going to take a soil test to make any reasonably informed decision. If fertility is already at an optimum level or higher, the economic return for additional fertilizer is low, and this might be a year to skip or cut back applications; however, do this with the realization that fertility levels will decline and must eventually be rectified. The fertilizer price situation is not pretty, but without the power of manure, legumes, and soil test results, it could be much worse. •

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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VERY August, the most powerful of tractors assemble in Bowling Green, Ohio, for the National Tractor Pulling Championships. Over 60,000 people fill the Wood County Fairgrounds grandstand during the three-day event. But if an attendee was to travel about 10 miles to the northeast of the grandstand, they’d likely find a different type of tractor pull going on — one that

perpetuates throughout the summer. Here, there’s a seemingly nonstop pulling of hay balers — and some extremely unique ones at that. J.D. Russell Hay & Straw is an immaculate poster operation for what a modern small square bale hay farm looks like. That’s right, “modern” and “small square bale” were used in the same sentence. The operation produces nothing but two-tie small square bales of alfalfa-orchardgrass hay and straw on 1,000 acres of owned and rented

All photos: Mike Rankin


northwestern Ohio terrain. John Russell and his wife, Denise, began their venture into haymaking modestly. Not from a farming family, Russell’s employer needed someone to make hay for his small herd of cattle. “It was 1983, and I bought a used $300 baler and two $100 hay wagons,” the current president of the National Hay Association recalled. “I worked there for 10 years, and then, in 1991, I bought the five acres that comprises the base of this farm. We moved here

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in 1992 and built our first hay barn in 1993. We rented some ground to grow hay on, but our biggest thing back then was straw. The remaining 75 acres of the original farm didn’t get purchased until after 2000, and we’ve just kind of kept adding since then.” These days, the Russell farm, which is near Pemberville, Ohio, is still a family-run operation. All of the Russell children — seven in total — grew up baling hay and straw. One of the Russells’ daughters, Julie, and her husband, Stuart Foos, have recently bought into the business and are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. David, the Russells’ second youngest son, who is attending college, also wants to return to the farm that produces about 200,000 bales of hay and straw each year. During a visit last summer, Russell explained that their hayfields are usually harvested four times per year by late September. Fields are cut with two New Holland self-propelled cutters equipped with Circle C conditioners. Once at the proper moisture, hay is raked onto the dry soil between swaths using H&S V-type wheel rakes. The balers are set to produce uniform 60-pound bales, which are then picked up by three New Holland bale wagons and driven to one of their many hay sheds. It’s all a well-choreographed haymaking dance with performances scheduled whenever Mother Nature allows. Like many farmers, Russell has the inventor gene, but his is comprised of a longer strand of DNA than most are blessed with. He has advanced well beyond a new gate latch design, although he probably has one. Russell is locked-in on harvest efficiency and forage quality. About five years ago, he perfected a self-propelled hay fluffer/ tedder that gently lifts and fluffs three swaths at a time and drops them in the same place. The machine has proven beneficial for speed drying ahead of a rain and to rescue wilting hay that unexpectedly gets rained on.

Two is better than one A hay fluffer is one thing, but Russell’s ultimate Holy Grail was to improve baling efficiency. “There has been virtually no research and development on small square balers in the past 30 years,” Russell lamented. “When you have a lot of hay to bale in a hurry, it requires running four or five balers and having the associated labor and trac-

tors. We did that for a lot of years, but I knew there had to be a better way.” That better way was a double two-tie baler — a baler with the pickup capacity to feed the equivalent of two bale chambers and double the output of a typical machine. Russell went to work on his dream with help from a custom agricultural machine manufacturer. A first attempt, completed in 2014, on a self-propelled baler that fed two separate bale chambers failed because bale uniformity could never be achieved, even with multiple adjustments. Undeterred, Russell and the custom manufacturer went back to the drawing

board. In 2019, they bought two new Hesston 1844 three-tie balers. “We had the idea of essentially cutting them in half, adding 13 inches down the middle, and adding one more knotter and needle,” Russell explained. “This time, instead of feeding two separate chambers, we only fed one with a single plunger and used a knife to cut the bale into two, two-tie bales.” The new double baler also has some other amenities such as a double quarter-turn chute, which aligns the bales in a straight line, and a bale scale that was engineered by one of Russell’s sons. Russell and Foos ran about 70,000 bales through the first baler in 2020, making adjustments along the way. Three more balers have since been built — one for another farm and two more for Russell, but one of his is currently in the possession of a major equipment manufacturer. Russell recently signed an agreement with this manufacturer, which intends to build and market double two-tie balers. “It was never our intent to manu-

facture these because it’s simply too expensive,” Russell said. “We were out to solve our own problem, and it was worth it to us. We won’t be building any more; in fact, we are no longer allowed to in accordance with our agreement,” he added. What Russell and Foos will be doing is selling off their inventory of standard balers.

A new farm addition Field testing the new double two-tie baler wasn’t the only new venture on the Russell farm during the summer of 2020. They also made the decision to install a hay dryer. The Chinook dryer,

John Russell’s double two-tie baler saves labor and time while doing the job of two single-chamber balers.

which was initially designed for large square bales, had to be slightly modified to accommodate small square bales and is the first of its kind in the U.S. “So far, we are really happy with it,” Foos said. “We spent two weeks with the assembly and installation, but everything went together the way it was designed. It dries up to 252 bales per hour, depending on bale moisture.” Russell added, “You don’t want to have to dry all your hay. Our target baling moisture is under 13% for first cutting and slightly higher for summer cuts. We’ve baled as wet as 30% moisture, but that’s not something we want to make a practice of. Ideally, we like to put it through the drier at 20% to 22%.” The haymaking duo didn’t keep track of exactly how many bales were dried this past summer, but estimated it was about continued on following page >>> February 2022 | hayandforage.com | 7

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Russell’s Chinook hay dryer adds baling flexibility. Drying up to 252 bales per hour, the dryer operates by injecting heat through 448 needles that push into the bales from the top and bottom.

20,000 to 30,000, which is a relatively small amount of their total production. The dryer’s power plant is housed in a 40-foot shipping container that sits just outside the drying shed. Warm air is injected though 448 needles that are pushed into the bales from both the top and bottom. Power is derived from a 500 horsepower (HP), 12.7-liter Detroit diesel engine. There is also a 200 HP blower fan motor and a 10 HP cooling fan motor. A 480-volt, three-phase generator cranks out 300 kilowatts of electricity. “In justifying the cost of the dryer, you can’t just figure how many bales you expect to dry,” Russell said. “Having a dryer gives you the confidence to cut hay with a less than ideal weather forecast. It also gives you the confidence to cut more acres at a time, knowing you can dry some or all of it if you need to. We have found that we are willing to cut more timely even with a questionable forecast,” he added. Russell continued, “If we didn’t have the dryer, we wouldn’t have taken those chances, so there are tens of thousands of bales of hay that we wouldn’t have made as timely, or at all, if we hadn’t had the dryer in our back pocket. That can gain you an extra cutting and also improves the quality of the hay we make, regard-

less of whether we dried it or not.” A hay dryer is not a cheap investment, and for those thinking about installing one, Russell said the energy cost isn’t the major consideration. The more important factors are the initial investment, the amount of barn space that needs to be dedicated to the dryer and storage of wet hay, the space needed to load and unload the dryer, and the additional time and labor needed to dry the hay. “The dryer doesn’t come with an operator’s manual,” Russell noted. “There is a pretty steep learning curve on how wet of hay you can dry and still end up with quality. It takes experience to learn how long of a cycle time you need to run based on the moisture of the hay, and also how much of that moisture is stem moisture. Ambient temperature and outside humidity are also things you need to factor in when deciding cycle times. We’ve never gotten hay too dry with the dryer, but we have had a couple batches spoil because we apparently didn’t run long enough cycle times. We will still be learning 10 years from now,” he added.

Before the iron Although machinery is an important and interesting part of haymaking,

The dryer’s power plant is housed in a 40-foot shipping container located just outside the drying shed.

Russell and Foos know that their soil holds the key to profitability. All fields are limed because the native soil pH is below 6.5. “We buy a lot of ag lime and try to keep our fields at around 6.8,” Russell said. “Generally speaking, we also apply 100 pounds of 6-15-40 per ton of hay removal.” Their fields are now grid sampled, so both fertilizer and lime are applied using variable rate application, which they do themselves. Alfalfa is seeded in late summer, usually not later than the first week of September. Wheat and soybeans are the two primary rotation-breaking crops. Russell seeds a 0.9 maturity soybean and tries to plant early. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I really

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like to seed alfalfa after soybeans if they’re off early enough,” he said. “We don’t even till the ground.” Foos noted that volunteer wheat is a challenge. “We disk to get it to germinate, then burn it off before seeding, but it seems to keep on coming. That takes the first cutting out of the horse market.” Recently, timothy has been tried as an alfalfa rotation-breaking crop, but Russell and Foos noted that they haven’t got that system perfected just yet. Twelve pounds of coated alfalfa seed and 8 pounds of a late-maturing orchardgrass are seeded per acre. “If we go higher with alfalfa and lower with the orchardgrass, we just don’t get enough of the grass, and the alfalfa out competes it,” Russell said. “Our goal is a 50:50 mix.” On average, that mix annually averages about 5 tons of dry matter per acre.

Horse, of course “A lot of people predicted the demise of the small square bale, but as long

as there are horses and their owners in this country, the market for small square bales will remain healthy,” Russell asserted. When asked about his clientele, Russell said, “We sell to feed retailers who then may sell to individual horse owners. We also supply hay for racetrack trainers and to an equestrian college. Most of our clients are the same year after year.” For the most part, their customers arrange the trucking, which was sometimes a real challenge in 2021. “I bet we lost sales on 20 to 30 loads of straw this year because of transportation problems,” Foos said. “Both drivers and containers were in short supply.” What isn’t in short supply at J.D. Russell Hay & Straw is the drive and passion to efficiently produce top-quality horse hay. With a longtime baler problem now solved, a next generation in place, and still plenty of horses to feed, this operation seems poised to ensure that small square bales won’t be put on the extinct species list anytime soon. •

National Hay Association has much to offer This past fall, John Russell was elected president of the National Hay Association (NHA) at their annual convention in San Diego, Calif. “I’m obviously biased, but I truly believe that anyone who wants to keep up with the latest innovations should consider joining NHA,” Russell said emphatically. “There’s so much to learn from others in the business, and I’ve never found a better venue to learn than by spending a few days with haymakers from around the U.S. You don’t get a sales pitch, you just get opinions from people with hands-on, real-life experience. I know for sure that I’m a better haymaker because of NHA,” he added. As president, Russell will be heavily involved with formulating an agenda for next September’s NHA convention, which will be held in Perrysburg, Ohio. Field and equipment demonstrations at J.D. Russell Hay & Straw promise to be a highlight of the event. For more details or to join the NHA, visit nationalhay.org.

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by Peter Robinson and Stephen Kaffka

Safflower is cut near Tipton, Calif., last April. The crop requires less applied water than winter cereals but contains 20% less energy.

It’s all about water in the San Joaquin Valley


AIRY farming has accounted for a high proportion of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) of California for almost 50 years. The SJV is a low rainfall area, traditionally ranging from about 5 inches annually in the south (Bakersfield area) to 20 inches in the north (Sacramento area). However recent weather/climate patterns have cut this already low annual rainfall by about 50%. Starting in the 1930s, the state and federal governments and private irrigation districts created an impressive hydrologic infrastructure to move water from the wetter north to the drier south, including the SJV. This con-

verted the SJV from a mainly single, winter, largely rain-fed cropping system to a double crop system by allowing use of fully irrigated summer crops. However, recent SJV rainfall patterns and higher water demands due to urbanization and the desire to enhance river flows have rendered this system untenable. Change is in the air — or rather, in the water.

What is the water problem? Since about 1980, the general forage model for SJV dairy farms was to grow a cereal in the winter for ensiling in the spring, followed by corn or occasionally sorghum in the summer for ensiling in

the fall. While many dairy farms grew alfalfa, mostly for hay, others bought hay from local and/or out-of-state sources. The water needs for this system, being far in excess of natural rainfall, were met by surface water deliveries from reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains to the east and by pumping water from aquifers. With those sources severely restricted by rainfall (the reservoirs) and state regulations (aquifer access), SJV dairy farmers are looking for alternate forage models. And they are needed now. PETER ROBINSON Robinson (pictured) and Kaffka are extension specialists in the Department of Animal Science and Department of Plant Science, respectively, at the University of California in Davis.

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The water problem facing SJV dairy farmers is actually twofold. Dairy farms with severely restricted access to surface water must find ways to reduce real water use while simultaneously dealing with state regulations that limit the amount of evapotranspired crop water use (ET water) allowed from their farmland. The objective is to restrict subsurface water pumping, which, in turn, will replenish aquifers. So, in a nutshell, dairy farmers need to plant crops that are water thrifty to reduce real water needs, as well as avoid full canopy crops from early June to late August to reduce ET water in order to meet state regulations.

Far-reaching effects How SJV dairy farms react to their water challenge will impact dairy farmers nationwide. Some SJV farmers will simply sell out — this has already begun — thereby reducing California milk production with collateral impacts on milk production needs and prices in other U.S. dairy areas. However, others are examining alternate crops and cropping systems. These new crop systems might have collateral impacts on feed demand from SJV farmers, which could lead to higher costs of many feeds, even nonforages. A traditional option in times of SJV water shortages was to simply buy more hay —mainly alfalfa — out-ofstate. While an effective short-term fix, this option has limited viability if practiced long-term since dairy farmers who go big on imported feeds to replace homegrown forages will face problems with state-regulated nutrient balances. Vacant or semi-vacant farmland absorbs fewer nutrients. But if this option occurs at scale, even for a few years, it will create a demand-fed hike in forage prices nationwide.

What are the options? Another traditional SJV option during drought is to replace corn with sorghum, a crop that is somewhat more water thrifty — from about 62 to 57 gallons of applied irrigation water per pound of crop dry matter (DM), or only about 8% less. Disadvantages of sorghum are that it has a lower nutrient density than corn, and because it is grown during the same time of year as corn, it will have a full canopy during the high ET months of June through September.

It is likely that some dairy farmers will plant corn earlier in the spring or push back corn planting to late June or early July to reduce ET water losses by having only partial canopies during mid-summer. By doing so, lower applied water is needed during full canopy, which would now occur in the fall. However, this will require short-season corn hybrids to avoid a November harvest during short days, which also have the potential for rainfall events and foggy conditions. In addition, DM yields will be lower. A traditional SJV crop, now on very thin ice, is alfalfa grown for hay in the SJV. Its applied water use in the SJV of about 102 gallons of applied irrigation water per pound of crop DM makes corn silage, at 62 gallons, look parsimonious. Loss of SJV-grown alfalfa hay will certainly result in dairy farmers looking east for replacement hays. Winter cereals are traditionally harvested as a whole crop; however, in a water-limited world, some dairy farmers will be attracted to direct cutting winter cereal to create a highhead (high starch) forage for ensiling to create a replacement for corn silage in lactation rations. The residue of the crop could then be cut, field dried, and baled as straw. While this option would create two crops from winter cereal and an undesirable second harvest, the net water use per pound of harvested DM would only be slightly impacted.

New thinking We have been examining forage safflower as a potential dairy forage because it grows in a similar time period as winter cereal and, being deep rooted, requires much less applied water than winter cereal — 16 versus 39 gallons of applied irrigation water per pound of crop DM — almost a 60% reduction. However, based upon data collected at the University of California in Davis and cooperator dairy sites, its net energy value is about 20% less than winter cereal, making it a poor fit for diets of lactating dairy cows. However, it is a good fit for replacement heifers and can displace cereal silage, which can then be grown at lower acreages and/or used in lactation diets to replace some corn silage. A nonforage winter crop that may further reduce needs for corn silage is sugar beets. A traditional SJV crop, albeit for sugar extraction, sugar beets

can top 60 tons per acre as harvested, or about 11 to 14 tons of DM. As sugar beet DM is about two-thirds sugar (sucrose), beets preserved anaerobically in silage bags can replace some of the starch in corn silage, as well as in corn grain. Combined with its 35 gallons of applied irrigation water per pound of crop DM, versus 62 for corn silage, sugar beets have the potential to free up ET water to allow some corn silage to continue to be grown in high summer for high-group dairy cows, although it still seems inevitable that there will be more vacant farmland in the SJV summer than there has been in the past. Growing forage safflower for ensiling during late fall through late spring as a forage for replacement heifers has the potential to reduce applied and ET water use when expressed per pound of diet DM. Addition of safflower to the replacement heifer diets would then displace most or all of the winter cereal that would be available for use in lactation rations, especially for post-peak cows. Combined with the equally waterthrifty beets, the cereal silage and beetlage, when added to the lactation rations, would displace some of the water-unthrifty corn silage and some imported (to California) corn grain. This would have the effect of reducing water needs per pound of lactation ration DM, as well as reduce the amount of land in crop during the high ET summer. Also, the manure absorbing capacity of the farmland would be balanced, at least to some extent, by less imported corn grain. Dairy farmers in the SJV face unparalleled challenges if they wish to stay in business, especially if the coming years are characterized by lower than normal rainfall. While the crops and crop systems that are developed will differ among dairy farms, it is clear that continued reliance on the traditional winter cereal-summer corn silage system is highly uncertain. As these changes are happening now, the impacts of their adoption, and what exactly is adopted, will soon be felt nationwide. • Values for applied water use per pound dry matter harvested are specific to the San Joaquin Valley of California under lower than normal rainfall and are estimates. Other regions will differ. February 2022 | hayandforage.com | 11

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by Jim Gerrish

Mike Rankin

Design a grazing cell to meet your needs


HERE are two basic approaches to setting up a grazing cell: fixed and flexible. A fixed grazing cell has a set number of permanent paddocks created with permanent fence and generally has permanent stock water available in every paddock. A flexible grazing cell consists of a framework of permanent fence with temporary fences used within to create individual paddocks. Often, a flexible grazing cell also uses movable water troughs. The primary advantages of fixed grazing cells are daily labor is minimized for moving livestock and they are low-cost per acre on larger properties. The primary disadvantages are they can be quite expensive per acre on smaller properties, and the number and size of the paddocks are always the same, which limits grazing flexibility. A flexible grazing cell will typically have lower capital cost for fence and stock water infrastructure. The greatest advantage is the ability to change size of the paddock depending on feed availability. This goes back to the principle that time management is more important than spatial management when implementing management-intensive grazing. I would far prefer the ability to allocate uniform feed on a daily basis by changing the size of the paddock compared to changing how many days the herd stayed in one paddock based on how much feed was available in a fixed-size paddock. We started out in the 1980s using

almost entirely the fixed grazing cell approach. From the outset, we used electrified 12.5 gauge high-tensile (HT) fences for our permanent subdivisions. Because I had grown up in the fivestrand barbed wire paradigm, we initially put in three and four-strand HT fences for cattle paddocks. Within a few years, we had dropped down to just two wires and now often just put in a single HT wire for permanent fencing. The low cost of one or two-wire HT fencing is what makes fixed grazing cells affordable in contrast to using barbed wire. Installed HT fence typically costs only about 20% of what old-fashioned barbed wire costs.

Flexible offered options By the early 1990s, we were beginning to understand that flexible grazing cells made a lot more sense than fixed grazing cells, except on the largest ranch properties. We found ourselves going into a lot of our fixed paddocks and doing further subdivision with polywire to fine-tune our grazing strategies. It was soon realized that we could eliminate 80% of our permanent fence cost by creating long, narrow grazing corridors rather than multiple permanent paddocks. At the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center, we set up a lot of our grazing cells with just 300- to 400-foot wide corridors. We created the further subdivisions for one- to threeday grazing periods with polywire. Those short lengths of polywire could

be taken down and set back up for the next move in just five to 10 minutes. Part of the reason for the narrow corridors is because we generally had at least 15 to 20 herds of cattle on research projects, so the herds were small, and the allotted pasture areas had to be sized accordingly. One of the fundamental principles of grazing management is to minimize the number of herds you are running, which improves labor efficiency and lowers the infrastructure cost per head. On our personal farm in Missouri, the corridors were 400- to 660-feet wide. Because of the rectangular survey system, 660-feet corridors worked out very nicely when the land was open in 40-, 80-, or 160-acre parcels. When the land was cut up by creeks and was more rolling, the corridors will tend to be a less uniform width.

A pivot plan On the ranch in Idaho, we graze two center pivots. The big pivot is 300 acres with a distance from pivot center to the outer reach of the end gun of about 2,040 feet. We created two circular grazing corridors by building a near-circular fence halfway between the pivot center and outer reach. Our stock water points are located at 1,000-feet intervals along the inner circle fence. Every time I move polywire fences on this flexible cell, it is over 1,000 feet, which is a little longer than I prefer. A paddock shift where I take down a fence and then reset it for tomorrow’s move takes me about 30 minutes. If we were starting from scratch on a pivot this size, I would make three circles, with each being 680-feet wide. That is a more pleasant length of fence to move daily. Our other pivot is just 150 acres, and the fence lengths are about 740 feet. Those paddock shifts only take me about 15 to 18 minutes. Flexible grazing cells have a lot of advantages and are the preferred choice by most serious graziers. • 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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GOOD, BETTER, OR BEST by Paige Smart


T’S been a year since I transitioned from being a regional seed company consultant to farming with my family full time. I feel very settled in this role, and there’s a long list of accomplishments I’m proud of, such as my improved skills as an operator and my newfound comfort in navigating difficult situations. As part of my changed perspective, I have also realized how many farmers I failed in my previous role. Early in my consultant career, I would visit about 75 farms a year. My intentions were pure — I wanted to be as helpful and supportive as I could be. I was mostly working to create plans for renovating and improving pasture. I would listen intently to the farmer’s wants and needs, ask about their constraints, and would leave an extensive plan behind. I left no steps out of my plans and no questions unanswered. In my mind, all these farmers needed to succeed was the information concisely laid out in my plan. If every step of those plans were implemented, most of those farmers probably would have been successful in renovating their pastures. However, I can only imagine how many of those

plans went unimplemented because they were overwhelming and out of reach. It’s uncomfortable as an adviser to list out a “less than ideal” option. You don’t ever want a farmer to be unsuccessful because you left out details or suggested an option with more risk. However, only presenting the best option is disconnected from reality in that resource (time or money) limitations might make the plan impossible to implement for some operators.

More than one way This is where a concept called “Good, Better, Best” comes into play. It’s not new, and it’s certainly not exclusively used in the agriculture industry. There may be times you already use this logic in your everyday life. “Good, Better, Best” lays out three categories and options that usually build off of each other. An easy example is housework. It would be good if you could sweep the floor. It would be better if you could sweep and mop the floor. It would be best if you sweep, mop, and wax the floor. There will be days when accomplishing the good task is all you can manage. This doesn’t mean you failed. We can all agree that sweeping the floors is better than never tending to them. The hope is that accepting there are options out-

side of perfection, we will all take more actions on the farm. The worst thing you can do is nothing, and “Good, Better, Best” encourages us to stop waiting for perfection to take action. Let’s consider this article my attempt to make amends to all those farmers I overwhelmed with detailed, step-bystep plans rooted in perfection. So, here’s my “Good, Better, Best” recommendation for pasture renovation.

GOOD Step 1: Suppress existing forage: This is your once-in-a-blue moon permission to overgraze! To give new seeds the best chance to get established, we must try to even the playing field. The established plants in the pasture have deep roots and carbohydrate stores. Overgrazing (or low mowing in hayfields) will be a good way to suppress existing plants.

PAIGE SMART The author is a partner in a custom stocker cattle operation in eastern North Carolina. She holds a master’s degree in animal science from North Carolina State University.

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Step 2: Broadcast seed: Broadcasting seed is fast and easy. After slinging out a couple of passes, check out your spread pattern to avoid having streaks or running out of seed too quickly. The trickiest thing with broadcasting is obtaining the right seeding rate. Calibrating a spreader isn’t always easy, but there are online calculators that use seed number per pound and determine expected seed population per square foot. Another approach is simply to cover a one-acre area with a known amount of seed in the spreader and check your results. Step 3: Lightly graze: This grazing isn’t about feeding livestock. This light grazing is to manage existing competition. Graze the field once existing plants regrow to 6 to 8 inches. Keep the canopy open to allow sunlight to reach the new seedlings. Overgrazing here would result in a significant loss of new plants, so be careful. Expectations: The good way will end up with a pasture blended with new and existing forages. Areas thick in existing forages will have fewer new plants whereas previously thin areas will have more new plants.

build the soil and helps to eliminate persistent perennial weeds. Spray the existing stand, plant a smothering annual crop like sorghum-sudangrass or millet, and then spray one final time to prepare for the perennial forage to be planted. Step 2: Drill seed: It’s still preferred to drill if possible, although broadcasting seed remains an option if good seedto-soil contact can be accomplished. Step 3: Fertilize after emergence and spray with selective herbi-

cides: If you desire an all-grass stand the first year, don’t be afraid to use a selective herbicide that can control broadleaf weeds. Most selective herbicides need existing grasses to be tillering before application. Expectations: The best way will likely result in a pasture with all new forage. Let’s keep taking actions toward better pastures and hayfields. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. There is always a good, better, or best option. •




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Step 1: Spray the pasture: Use your favorite nonselective herbicide to kill as many of those existing plants as possible. This is once again managing competition. It takes more money and effort up front, but it will also result in a pasture that is denser with new forages. If your pasture is full of undesirable weeds, this step is really worth the effort. Step 2: Drill seed: Drilling allows us to have more control of the situation. It takes a little bit longer than broadcasting, but a more accurate depth is achieved and a drill is more easily calibrated than a broadcast spreader. Drilling will be more successful in fields with a lot of plant residue on top of the soil. Step 3: Fertilize after emergence: Feeding those new seedlings just when they need it will speed up tillering, root development, help fight diseases, and usually allow for earlier grazing or mowing than unfertilized fields. Expectations: The better way will result in a pasture with mostly new forage — although some persistent weedsfrom the previous pasture may survive. Step 1: Spray-smother-spray: This method utilizes two growing seasons to

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Jeff Lehmkuhler

What’s that hay worth?


EEF cow-calf, stocker, and backgrounding enterprises rely on the forages available to keep production costs low. In the 1990s, when several states were collecting Standardized Performance Analyses data, it revealed that feed inputs were the largest expense and comprised roughly two-thirds of the total costs of production. High fertilizer prices will lead to higher costs for supplements and hay production in the upcoming year. Do you know what your hay is worth? As a ruminant nutritionist, I always recommend testing stored forages for nutrient content. The information from a forage test is the foundation of constructing a strategic supplementation plan. As an example, this year’s Eastern Kentucky Hay Contest had over 500 entries, and 176 of these were requested to be evaluated for beef cattle. Of the 176 forage samples evaluated, 114, or 65%, of the entries did not require supplementation for spring-calving, dry, mid-gestational cows in good body condition. However, the number of samples not requiring supplementation was cut in half for fall-calving, lactating beef cows. A total of 126 forage samples required some level of supplementation to meet the nutritional needs for lactating cows. Forage testing helps to develop targeted supplementation plans.

Unexpected results In some instances, producers do not observe the level of performance they anticipated based on a forage test. The hay’s worth may not always be the same as the forage test would suggest. As an example, I conducted an on-farm trial this past winter with a yak producer. We were looking at the difference in forage type on the growth rate of yaks. Alfalfa, orchardgrass/red clover, and a mixed-grass hay were evaluated. The level of crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN) are shown in Table 1. Given that the energy content for the mixed grass and alfalfa were similar, one would have anticipated comparable rates of gain. Granted, the alfalfa was

Table 1. Crude protein, total digestible nutrients (TDN), and net energy for gain (NEg) concentrations in hays offered to growing yaks. Mixed grass

Orchardgrass/Red clover


Crude protein, %




TDN, %




NEg, mcal/lb




much higher in crude protein than the mixed-grass hay. However, the crude protein requirement for these animals growing at a rate of 0.6 pounds per day was estimated to be less than 10.8% based on limited published literature. Yet the observed daily gain was higher for the alfalfa hay, being 0.42 pounds per day while the mixed-grass hay resulted in a daily weight loss of minus 0.23 pounds. The orchardgrass/red clover hay offered similar performance to alfalfa at 0.48 pounds per day gain. The true biological value and the forage quality test did not quite pan out as expected. Why? Our calculated intakes could have been off slightly given the subjectivity in estimating waste. As this was an on-farm trial, intakes were not measured but rather bales were weighed and offered. Waste was visually estimated and subtracted from the amount offered to arrive at hay disappearance. Hay disappearance was slightly higher for alfalfa being 2.7% of body weight while the other two hays were similar at 2.3%. Greater dry matter intake can lead to higher calorie intake and performance. However, this slight improvement in intake for alfalfa doesn’t explain the gain differences between alfalfa and the mixed grass hays. Other factors could have played a role. The crude protein requirement for growing yaks could be greater than that reported in the literature. Both the alfalfa and orchardgrass/red clover hay were similar, being about 17%, and may be more closely matched to the animals’ needs. The mixed hay may not have supplied sufficient crude protein for growth. The mixed grass hay also contained a significant amount of weeds. In some bales, the weeds appeared to have been

about 15% to 20% of the biomass in the bales. Most of the weeds were not consumed, resulting in greater waste for these higher weed-containing bales. We were throwing money on the ground with these weedy bales that were purchased, lowering their worth.

Monitor body condition Don’t rely solely on a forage test and animal nutrient requirement tables to feed your cow herd. Monitor animals for changes in body condition and weight. This can be done subjectively through body condition scoring or objectively using a scale to capture weights. With higher crop input costs and hay prices, purchasing and selling hay without a forage test is a greater financial risk. However, a forage test alone won’t tell you about the true feeding value. Inspect hay prior to purchase for weeds, mold, and other quality detractors that may impact intake and animal performance. Remember, forages are the base of beef feeding programs. They comprise the largest portion of the diet in cow-calf enterprises, and winter feeding is often the largest expense. Armed with the information on forage nutrient levels, we can appropriate different forage lots/ cuttings by stage of production to better match nutritional needs and develop strategic supplementation programs. Again, I ask, what is your hay worth? •

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

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© 2022 Forage Genetics International, LLC. Roundup Ready ® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® is a registered trademark of Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready ® Technology and Roundup Ready ® Alfalfa are subject to planting and use restrictions. Visit ForageGenetics.com/legal for the full legal, stewardship and trademark statements for these products. America’s Alfalfa, America’s Alfalfa logo and Traffic Tested are registered trademarks of Forage Genetics, LLC.

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All photos: Amber Friedrichsen

Grazing for the present and future by Amber Friedrichsen


cott Mericka greeted me with a firm handshake and a friendly smile as I arrived at Grass Dairy in Dodgeville, Wis. He is the owner of a farm that is nestled in the hills of the Badger State’s southwest Driftless Area. Mericka was eager to show me the farm and share his story, which started off unlike most others. He had been working at a large organic dairy in California when he began to feel uninspired and wanted an opportunity to farm for himself and define his own career. Then one day, he came across a “Help Wanted” ad. The previous owners of Grass Dairy were looking to hire someone they could eventually sell their farm and cheese plant to. They were one of the first dairies to implement intensive rotational grazing in Wisconsin during the early 1980s and managed a small, seasonal, grass-fed herd. Mericka was interested in the operation, and in 2010 he started working as an apprentice alongside his current business partner, Andy Hatch.

Mericka and Hatch formed a profit-sharing agreement with the farm’s owners and gradually earned enough money to purchase the operation in 2017. Today, Mericka manages the farm, which is home to 200 crossbred dairy cattle. He lives there with his wife, Liana, and their two young children. Hatch manages the operation’s cheese plant, Uplands Cheese, and the duo work together to produce award-winning products. The unique flavors of the renowned cheeses are derived from the high-quality forages their cows graze on the farm.

A plethora of species Mericka’s farm comprises roughly 600 acres – 10% of which is dedicated to annual forages. In the winter, he arranges large round bales in a predetermined portion of less productive pasture for his cattle to graze. This land is rough and muddy come spring, so it undergoes a series of reseeding steps before being put back into the grazing rotation. Mericka starts by drilling sorghum-su-

dangrass into the battered ground and rotates his cattle on it twice during the summer. Grazing this warm-season annual helps alleviate the summer production slump that many of Mericka’s cool-season grasses fall victim to. In October, Mericka seeds winter rye over the sorghum-sudangrass. The winter rye commences the grazing season the following spring and cattle take to these fields as early as mid-April. After two rotations, the rye is terminated, and Mericka no-tills a dynamic mix of grasses, legumes, and chicory, which will go into rotation in subsequent years. Mericka is partial to meadow fescue in his permanent pastures. “It has probably been the most resilient and best performing, and it winters better than ryegrass does,” he said. Tall fescue, orchardgrass, and smooth bromegrass are also key components to his perennial base. The veteran grazier has been incorporating more alfalfa into his fields because it tends to withstand the 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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summer slump better than some of the other forages. He also seeds other legumes such as ladino and red and white clover, which the cattle seem to selectively graze. “In my experience, the cows prefer clovers over alfalfa, but I think alfalfa does better when it’s hot and dry,” Mericka shared. To combat hot and dry weather conditions, Mericka applies 50 to 75 pounds of nitrogen and gypsum to his fields in July. The added nutrients help boost forage production and ward off rust development when pasture growth slows. In addition to pastures, 35 acres are reserved for corn silage. Some of this crop is custom chopped and bagged to be fed at milking. Mericka will also cut and rake corn silage and have it custom baled into the aforementioned large round bales the cattle graze throughout the winter. Mericka’s goal is to graze for 250 days, so he must be diligent when it comes to monitoring what is available. Every week, he uses a rising plate meter to determine how much forage dry matter is available, how much area he can allot for the next paddock, and how long his cattle can stay before being moved. He uses single-strand, high-tensile wire for fencing and a tumblewheel to allocate new pasture, which fits his flexible style. At the beginning of the season, Mericka’s rotation usually lasts around 20 days. At this time, his pastures seem to grow faster than what his cattle can consume. If he experiences a surplus of growth, Mericka cuts his pastures to make hay. Alfalfa is cut for haylage and large square bales that are used to supplement pastures during the summer slump. In this case, Mericka will also slow down his rotation to about 35 to 40 days and scale back on paddock size. “If I’m losing more grass than I’m gaining, I need to make my rotation last as long as possible,” Mericka explained. “I use less pasture and feed more hay to let forage production catch up. If I need 6,000 pounds of feed every day, but the pasture can only provide 3,000 pounds, it’s time to bring hay to the table.”

Making udder sense Being a seasonal dairy, Mericka’s spring calving season is condensed to about 50 days. He keeps his heifer calves and has an arrangement with a neighbor who takes his bull calves. When the heifers are weaned, Mericka relocates them to a farm less than a mile north of his home where they will

stay until they are bred. Breeding season is also rigorous because Mericka has a short window of time to get all of his heifers and cows bred. He uses A.I. but also keeps a couple bulls in his herd for clean-up. Even though calving and breeding can be intense, Mericka tries to enjoy a bit of downtime when the hard work is done. “The biggest benefit of being a Scott Mericka strives to graze his dairy cows 250 days per year.

seasonal dairy is how everything comes in waves,” Mericka said. “Once it’s mid-summer and the dust settles, things kind of calm down. But, there is always something to do on the farm.” Mericka hopes to find even more success in seasonal breeding when he begins the unique approach of milking once a day. He is currently milking twice a day, but is planning on expanding his herd to approximately 250 cows so he can maintain the farm’s level of milk production after the switch. He said once-a-day milking should create less stress on the cattle and make breeding more efficient, which is important for his system. “I hope to get cows that reproduce and calve faster and easier,” Mericka explained. “I know my cows are going to settle because we are managing for lower production, and we go into June knowing they are going to breed.” One of the risks of milking once a day is, of course, producing less milk. Mericka said he could feed more grain to mitigate this loss, but he chooses not to because preserving the milk’s grass-fed taste is top priority for the cheese-making business. “We could probably produce more milk per cow if we fed more corn silage, but it would dull the things that make the milk unique for the cheese,” Mericka said. “We can make lower volumes of milk that have a lot of grass flavor, and that’s kind of our signature.” Nearly 60% of the farm’s milk goes to Uplands Cheese. The other 40% is

shipped to Rolling Hills, a local co-op that processes milk through the Cows First program with Meister Cheese in Muscoda, Wis. Managing forages properly improves the milk, and managing genetics improves the herd. Mericka has identified specific characteristics he wants in his cattle and has developed a cross between New Zealand Jerseys and New Zealand Holstein-Friesians — an unusual mix that meets all of Mericka’s requirements. “My neighbors call them ‘pasture donkeys,’” he joked as he described his cattle. “The phenotype I like is 1,000 pounds, short, wide, walks a lot, has a good udder, and produces low-volume, high-component milk so I can make once-a-day milking work.” Many dairies in New Zealand also operate on a seasonal breeding schedules, so Mericka models his farm after them. He utilizes resources from the Kiwis to learn how to improve his grazing plans, breeding techniques, and even employee management. Mericka seeks this information from New Zealand simply because he said there is not as much research about or implementation of seasonal dairies in the U.S.

Coming full circle Looking ahead, Mericka not only wants to enhance his operation, but enhance the lives of others as well. Similar to what his predecessors did for him, he is mentoring young farmers through the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program (dga-national.org). Aspiring graziers come to work for Mericka, and they receive on-farm training while completing structured coursework to equip them with the skills to one day farm on their own. Mericka hopes to find his own replacement among one of his apprentices and pass the farm onto them. This means another profit-sharing agreement is in the future, but next time, Mericka will be on the exit end. He is ready to grow the business in order to bring in equity partners, teach them to the best of his ability, and allow them to have some “skin in the game” throughout the process — ultimately providing others with the opportunities that were once provided for him. “My motivation is to build the business around people who care and have them be a part of it all,” he said. “If that means we have to milk 500 or 1,000 cows, then that’s the number of cows we will milk to make it all work.” • February 2022 | hayandforage.com | 19

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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


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

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.

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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.


Alfalfa-almond hull cubes show promise 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. carbohydrates are so high that I think you actually lose some of the benefits of alfalfa if you are taking alfalfa out and putting more almond hulls in.” The researchers maintained the amount of alfalfa in the diet “so we still have that digestible fiber and higher crude protein,” she said. “In our study, we developed samples of four different qualities of alfalfa: low, low-to-medium, medium, and high. Total digestible nutrients (TDN) ranged from 45% to 58%,” Swanson said. “Then we added in different amounts of almond hulls (0%, 25%, 50% and 75%), plus pure almond hulls, ending up with 17 different samples of alfalfa-almond hull mixes.” Samples were analyzed for forage quality and in vitro digestibility, utilizing a 72-hour gas production method to calculate metabolizable energy, as well as Daisy dry matter digestibility and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) digestibility at 12, 24, 30, and 48 hours. Analysis showed benefits to the mixes for lower- to medium-quality alfalfa hay. “Some of the in vitro work showed there was not as much benefit if

you have fairly high-quality hay as a beginning point,” said Putnam. “But in lower-quality, high-fiber hays, there appears to be an advantage.” The sheep feeding trials used low- to medium-quality cubed hay with NDF valued at about 37%. Alfalfa cubes, including 0%, 10%, 20%, or 40% almond hulls, were fed to sheep over an eightweek period, with each animal experiencing each diet. Fecal harnesses collected samples that were analyzed for nutrient composition to quantify digestibility. “Cubes with 10% almond hulls had the highest dry matter, organic matter, and crude protein digestibility,” Swanson said. “Crude protein (CP) was about the same as it was for pure alfalfa cubes.” But CP, as well as acid detergent fiber (ADF) and NDF digestibility, dropped in diets with higher levels (20% and 40%) of almond hulls. “I was surprised by the reduction in fiber digestibility in these samples, since in the previous dairy cow study using high amounts of almond hulls, NDF digestibility improved when the diet utilized up to 20% almond hulls,”

Effects of almond hull inclusion on TDN TDN (calculated from ADF)


AIRING almond hulls with lowerto medium-quality alfalfa hay as a cubed or double-compressed animal feed may create new domestic and international markets – while improving hay quality, according to University of California (UC) researchers. Various amounts of almond hulls, a byproduct of almond production, were tested with four qualities of alfalfa hay by UC-Davis’ Daniel Putnam, extension forage agronomist; Katie Swanson, postdoctoral scholar; and Edward DePeters, animal scientist. With Alfalfa Checkoff funding, the mixes were examined for forage quality using laboratory feed analysis and sheep-feeding digestibility trials. “Almond hulls are very high in fermentable carbohydrates, and alfalfa is an excellent source of DAN PUTNAM protein and digestKATIE SWANSON ible fiber. So, the Funding: $48,358 question is whether they would work together in some positive fashion,” Putnam said. “A major impetus for doing this research is to discover value-added products. How can we add to the value of particularly medium- and lower-quality alfalfa hay? Is there a way to improve the quality of those hays and put them in a package that could be used for long-distance markets, including exports or domestic markets?” he asked. California is the largest almond producer in the world and the only place in North America commercially producing almonds. The almond industry is also looking for ways to market its byproducts, Swanson said. She has fed almond hulls as a concentrate replacement in previous dairy feeding trials. “But those

60 58 56 54 52 50 48 46 44 42 40

Quality of alfalfa hay High Medium Low/Medium Low 0



30 40 50 Percentage of almond hulls




PROJECT RESULTS 1. Alfalfa hay combined with ground almond hulls lowered the NDF and ADF content, reduced crude protein, but improved the RFV and TDN of the product. 2. Cubed mixes of modest amounts of almond hulls added to low- to medium-quality alfalfa, fed to sheep, could improve overall dry matter and crude protein digestibility and soluble carbohydrates with only slight declines in fiber digestibility.

22 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2022

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she said. However, the amount of lignin (the indigestible part of fiber) is higher in almond hulls than in alfalfa. That may have influenced the drop in digestibility when more than 10% almond hulls were added in the sheep study, Swanson surmised. They will continue with a dairy feeding trial using the alfalfa-almond hull cubes, funded by the Almond

Board of California, Swanson said. Putnam added, “The role and synergy of alfalfa-almond hull interactions may be different in a total dairy ration than in a 100% forage diet that we observed in the sheep trial.” “These data suggest that there are potential benefits for in vitro and in vivo digestibility when low amounts (for example, 10%) of almond hulls are

mixed with low- to medium-quality alfalfa, but not higher qualities of alfalfa hay,” Putnam said. “Mixing alfalfa hay with almond hulls lowers NDF and ADF concentrations, thereby improving RFV (relative feed value) and TDN values, which may be of interest to marketers. Further research on impacts of these products in diets for lactating dairy cows would be helpful.” •

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by Adam Verner

Assess equipment and parts needs now


IME seems to go by more quickly with each passing year. We are already halfway through winter, and it seems like just yesterday we were wrapping up last year’s harvest. As the snow continues to fall for much of the country, there is more time to catch up on some shop work and maintenance. Looking forward, keep in mind that this year may be a little different than those in the past because most equipment and parts won’t be available on an as-needed basis. In the past, when a unit broke down, we went into town to get the part or a new or used replacement piece of equipment. Using the same approach this year could be a problem. The last two years have depleted most of the stock units and parts sitting on warehouse shelves. The extra supply just isn’t there anymore. To really keep your operation humming this summer, you will need to make parts and equipment plans now while the snow is still falling. This will certainly be true for new equipment, but it is also the case for used equipment, if that’s what fits your budget. Be proactive and talk with your local dealer to discuss the available options that will meet your needs. There are many ways to locate and acquire used equipment. Giving your salesperson a

heads-up as to what you are looking for will raise the chances of finding it in the shortest amount of time. New equipment deliveries seem to be taking a minimum of six months, with some pieces completely booked for 2022 production. In other words, every available unit that is scheduled to be built in the 2022 model year has been spoken for by a dealership. So, the only way to know if a particular model is even available is to be up front with your salesperson and tell them what you are looking for. Even if they don’t have any ordered, it’s still possible to do some swapping with other dealers, although this takes time. It’s not something that can be done when the hay is on the ground next summer.

Fill your shop shelves Failing to plan ahead may result in not getting the equipment that you want or overpaying for the only piece you can find. The same can be said for parts availability. Manufacturers are doing their best to keep parts on the shelves, but the in-flow of new parts is sporadic at best. The arrival of containers with parts is about the same flow as trucks to the silage pile — you wait for 30 minutes and nothing, then five trucks show up at

once. This is the way parts containers have been arriving in many cases. It will be especially important this year to stock up on heavily used parts at you farm, rather than assume they will have them at the dealership. You can work with your parts manager to identify those parts that are most often purchased during the growing season for your specific equipment line. The old saying “failing to plan is planning to fail” will certainly be true in 2022. Stay in front of your equipment and parts needs for the next 18 months. I don’t see the situation getting back to normal before then. Even after a year and a half, we may find ourselves in a “new normal.” Let’s hope we can get back to prepandemic stocking levels on both equipment and parts as soon as possible so that all involved can rest a little easier during the busy growing season. •

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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December hay stocks tumble


by Mike Rankin



Arkansas California Colorado

December 1 hay stocks by states: 2020 and 2021 Dec 2020

HE annual release of hay and forage data by USDA that defines the previous year’s hay production and year-ending inventories last month. The Crop Production and Crop Production Annual Summary reports offer a glimpse of the current state of the forage industry and provide a gauge to measure hay market sensitivity to various production pressures in 2022. Overall, virtually all forage production metrics were down in 2021 compared to the previous year — even corn silage production. The USDA makes its assessment of dry hay stocks in May and December of each year. Last May, spring hay stocks declined by a little over 2.4 million tons compared to the previous year. USDA pegged December 1, 2021, hay stocks at about 79 million tons, down 5 million tons or 6% from the previous year. This puts stocks at essentially the same place they were in December 2018. Of course, they are far below the levels seen during the first 10 years of the decade. As might be expected, individual states varied in the total amount and direction of hay inventory change (see table below). Of the major hay-producing states, the largest inventory reductions occurred in those that have been hit hard by drought: North Dakota – down 43.3% South Dakota – down 43.1% Oregon – down 42.5% Arizona – down 40% Montana – down 39.6% Minnesota – down 34.8% Some states had significant inventory gains. These included: New York – up 70% Iowa – up 28.4% Texas – up 28.1% Nevada – up 22.5% Michigan – up 22.2% Bottom line: The lower December hay stocks come as no surprise; it was just a matter of to what degree. Overall, the level of U.S. December 1 hay stocks has dropped over 15 million tons since 2016. At the same time, the U.S. has also experienced a significant decline in the amount of dry hay disappearance between December and the following May. Currently, both dairy and beef cow numbers are in decline. •

% Change















17.6% 26.7%


















































































22.5% 16.7%

Nevada New Hampshire



New Jersey




New Mexico







New York North Carolina




North Dakota











3.9% -42.5%








Rhode Island




South Carolina




South Dakota






























West Virginia















December 1 hay stocks 2000 to 2021

Tons (x 1,000)

Dec 2021

--------------1,000 tons--------------

100,000 90,000 80,000 70,000 60,000 2000


United States Source: USDA

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ENTRAL Kentucky farmers Dave Burge, Dorris Bruce, and Beth and Brad Hodges have made major changes to their winter-feeding systems in recent years. All three farms had been using conventional feeding approaches: a sacrifice lot, a feeding pad, and a feeding barn, respectively. These days, they are all feeding exclusively by bale grazing during the winter, even in the most inclement weather. Bruce and Burge started bale grazing during the winter of 2018 to 2019. The Hodges started bale grazing during the winter of 2015 to 2016. In the January 2022 issue of Hay & Forage Grower, we discussed some of the basic steps needed for bale-grazing success (“Feed hay the rotational grazing way,” pg. 17). An important point to make is that these farms have taken the time and effort to learn how to bale graze effectively and have been guided in this process. It is easy to damage pastures in the Fescue Belt with haphazard bale grazing, as the region has numerous winter challenges. Consequently, bale grazing needs to be modified from how it is implemented in other areas. Consult the original article for these details. Here, we will capture the experiences and thoughts of three experienced Fescue Belt farmers who bale graze.


What has been your experience with pasture damage from bale grazing? Burge: I had neighbors and peers who were confident that I was getting ready to ruin the farm. As that wet winter of 2018 to 2019 was unfolding, I was concerned, too. But as I started moving cows to fresh ground every four days, I quickly learned that the damage was minor, and the damaged areas were small. Because the damage is not deep, the ground heals rapidly. One year later, you can still tell where a bale was, but two years later, it’s almost impossible. Bruce: During the first winter, there was some damage in close proximity to the hay rings. As the cows were moved to new bales, the ring areas were overseeded with fescue and perennial ryegrass. In late winter, red clover and annual lespedeza were overseeded into the entire feeding paddock. By May, there was no visible sign of sod destruction. The second winter was wetter than normal, and there appeared to be considerable damage. To my great surprise, by the middle of May, that pasture looked better than the areas that had not been bale grazed.


How much equipment time and labor does it take to feed cattle with bale grazing? Burge: I usually put out a month to six weeks of hay at a time. When I’m within two weeks of needing hay again,

I start looking for an opportunity like a really cold morning, or when it is dry, so I don’t make any tracks in the pasture. So, probably three times a season I spend about an hour and a half putting out hay. Then every four days I spend an hour and a half moving fence and rings. With the sacrifice lot, I was spending 45 minutes every day putting out hay. There are efficiencies just built into bale grazing. Hodges: It took about four hours to put out 68 bales in late November. Everything was prepared ahead of time so we could just focus on getting the hay out. After about a half hour, we had a good system going. We would load three bales on a trailer hooked to a pickup, and then spear two more for the tractor to take out. The bales on the trailer were chocked and then rolled off by hand, using gravity on the hilly terrain to do most of the work. While the trailer was being unloaded, the tractor would take out two bales at a time to a section of pasture close to the barn so that it could get back and have a bale ready to load when the pickup returned.

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

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We fed about four bales at a time along with stockpiled pasture, and that would last about five to seven days. It took about 60 minutes each move to set up the new fence, roll rings, take down the old fence, and check on the cattle. Another benefit for us was the tractor time saved traveling to and from this farm since it was about 5 miles from the home farm. With bale grazing, we could just drive a pickup there. We didn’t need a tractor again on this farm until we ran out of that first batch of hay, sometime in early March.


What has been your experience regarding the soil fertility aspects from bale grazing? Burge: When I move cows off one section, it is covered with evenly distributed cow pies. What is fascinating to me is that 60 days later, they are almost all gone and incorporated into the soil. I don’t fertilize pastures anymore, and I don’t worm mature cows. The system helps promote the biological activity of bugs, worms, bacteria, and fungi that break down the manure and put it into the soil. I don’t even apply

nitrogen to stockpiled fescue pastures, and I have good fall growth. That has been a real money saver. Bruce: I was convinced to try bale grazing when I was informed that each bale grazed had a fertilizer value of $14. That first summer, I realized I had made a good management decision as there was a significant increase in the amount and quality of the pasture forages compared to areas that had not been bale grazed.


What secondary benefits have you experienced from bale grazing? Burge: That first winter people kept asking how I kept my cows so clean. It was because I was moving them to fresh sod every four days. They didn’t have time to tear things up and then lie in the mud. I think the cows’ body condition scores improved compared to the sacrifice lot I once used. I attribute this to two things. First, the clean coats allow the cows to stay better insulated, and they use fewer calories trying to stay warm. Second, they don’t have to expend as much energy getting through

the mud to get to the hay. I hated the mud in the sacrifice area. Hodges: It’s inexpensive to implement. We were already using temporary fencing, reels, posts, and solar chargers for rotational grazing, so we had most of what we needed for bale grazing. We bought four plastic hay rings, specifically for bale grazing, so we could easily flip and roll them by hand. Those cost about $1,200 total. If we added in the cost of the rotational grazing supplies, that would bring the total to around $3,000.

Pies in the pasture For some, the benefits of bale grazing looks too good to be true, and the whole concept might seem like “pie in the sky.” However, for farmers who learn how to effectively implement bale grazing, the pie will take on a different meaning: beautiful “pies” that are evenly distributed over the pasture, enhancing fertility and pasture growth. As Dorris Bruce nicely summarized, “What is not to like about bale grazing? My only regret is that I did not start 10 years earlier.” •

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ALFALFA-BERMUDAGRASS HELPS CUT PURCHASED INPUTS by Liliane Silva, Kim Mullenix, and Jennifer Tucker


TOCKPILING is an important management practice that defers forage availability for a time of later use. In the southeastern U.S., perennial grasses such as tall fescue and bermudagrass are used to extend forages use into the late fall and early winter to close the fall forage gap. Stockpiled bermudagrass provides moderate quality forage, but quality aspects may be improved with the incorporation of legumes. Growing alfalfa in bermudagrass stands provides a way to enhance seasonal forage production and nutritional value compared to bermudagrass alone. Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume with high forage production and quality. Over the last several decades, there was a decline in alfalfa acreage in the Southeast region associated with a harsh environment and elevated insect pressure. Joe Bouton, emeritus professor with the University of Georgia, developed new alfalfa varieties with improved adaptation to hot and humid growing conditions and with dual-purpose applications (haying and grazing) that better fit the environment and needs of

livestock-forage producers in the region. Alfalfa can be grown either as a standalone crop or planted into warm-season perennial grasses in the region. Due to similar soil fertility and drainage requirements, regional research and extension efforts have shown success of incorporating alfalfa into existing bermudagrass systems. Some of the benefits of the mixture include an improvement in forage quality, reduced reliance on purchased nitrogen fertilizer, and extended forage production. Improving forage quality during the late fall months may reduce the need for supplemental feeds for both cow-calf and stocker operations using stockpiled forages.

A good fit The combination of a long growing season and the potential for delayed hard freeze conditions lends itself to potential success of an alfalfa stockpile system in the Southeast region. To begin assessing feasibility of this system, a two-year, multi-state research trial was conducted in Georgia and Alabama to evaluate different stockpiling strategies of alfalfa-bermudagrass mixtures. Five stockpiling periods (6, 8, 10, 12, or 14 weeks) were used to determine forage production, quality, composi-

Strip grazing stockpiled alfalfabermudagrass mixtures in the fall can eliminate the need for feed supplements and purchased nitrogen fertilizer.

tion, and stand persistence over time. Alfalfa-bermudagrass mixtures were mowed in late August or early September each year and stockpiled for the corresponding period. In Alabama, preliminary results showed average forage production ranging from 1,352 to 3,030 pounds of dry matter per acre across the five stockpiling periods during the two years of the trial (see figure). In the second year, greater forage mass was observed for 10- and 12-weeks of regrowth (3,817 and 3,785 pounds of dry matter per acre, respectively). This response was associated with greater bermudagrass presence in the mixture. In Year 1, bermudagrass was 23% of the mixture and increased to 57% of the stand in Year 2. The percentage of weeds in the stockpiled mixture

28 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2022

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Percentage of lodging of alfalfa-bermudagrass stockpiled from 6 to 14 weeks Stockpiling period Year

6 weeks

8 weeks

10 weeks

12 weeks

14 weeks

Percentage of alfalfa plant lodging (%)

Year 1






Year 2






Forage mass of stockpiled alfalfa-bermudagrass from 6 to 14 weeks 4,500 4,000 Forage mass (lbs./acre

remained below 4% in both years. As the stockpiling period lengthened, greater alfalfa plant lodging and leaf shattering was observed (see table). Less alfalfa leaf presence impacts forage nutritional value, and it may impact performance when animals are consuming more mature alfalfa-bermudagrass mixtures. Similarly, greater forage digestibility was associated with a shorter regrowth period (six weeks), although the values observed across all stockpiling period lengths ranged from 62% to 87%. This represents a forage quality that can still meet high-end animal requirements, such as that for growing calves. Based on these preliminary results, stockpiling alfalfa-bermudagrass mixtures using varying accumulation period lengths may be a viable alternative system to provide high-quality feed and extend the grazing season into the fall and winter months in the Southeast. This strategy might help reduce the reliance of off-farm inputs such as feed supplements and commercial nitrogen fertilizer. Incorporation of legumes into forage systems, such as alfalfa, will enhance diversity, resilience, and sustainability of forage-based livestock systems while lowering the carbon footprint.

 Year 1  Year 2

3,500 3,000 2,500 2,000 1,500 1,000 500 0 6-wk





Stockpiling period

Additional resources As part of a regional effort among the University of Georgia, Auburn University, and the University of Florida, several decision-making resources have been developed to help producers determine if alfalfa might have a place on their operation. First, look at the “Alfalfa in Bermudagrass Checklist” on the Southeast Cattle Advisor website (secattleadvisor. com) or scan the QR code with your phone to access the article. This stepby-step guide will help determine site suitability for alfalfa establishment and the timeline needed for getting started. Next, review the informational webinars on this topic related to establishment, management, and economics, which are available at www.aces.edu/ go/1734. • LILIANE SILVA Silva (pictured) is an extension forage specialist with Clemson University. Mullenix and Tucker are extension beef specialists with Auburn University and the University of Georgia, respectively.

Untitled-1 1

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VER 2.5 million acres of nonirrigated dry hay are produced annually in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida, with an average yield of 5,750 pounds per acre. From 1976 to 2014, hay production per cow in the southeastern U.S. grew 136%. Reducing the dependency on stored feed in beef production is a primary objective of most management plans to enhance profitability of cow-calf production systems; however, it has been estimated that hay is fed for over 130 days per year on the average Southeast farm. Despite the abundance of hay that is produced and fed, nutritive values are often too low to meet the dietary requirements of certain classes of beef cattle. This can be attributed to several factors, including forage species, fertilization, environmental conditions, harvest management, and storage and feeding practices. Mean values for dry hay samples submitted to the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory during the 2017 through 2018 growing seasons were 9.2% crude protein (CP) and 45.4% total digestible nutrients (TDN). A 1,200-pound mature cow that is two months postpartum requires feed consisting of 10.7% CP and 59.9% TDN. Significant improvements need to be made in hay production systems in order to account for these nutrient deficits. Hay production in the Southeast, not unlike the animal side of beef cattle production, is often riddled with inefficiencies, particularly in the form of harvest frequency and fertilizer demands. Improved forage quality is often achieved through the combination of more frequent harvests and higher levels of nitrogen (N). Using elevated rates of N, combined with more frequent harvests, produces higher quality hay but often brings concerns of higher costs. The total number of acres fertilized in Mississippi were essentially unchanged from 2012 to 2017, but expenses related to fertilization have declined substantially (28%) in that same time period.

Though several calculators and tools have been developed for hay crop budgeting, producers are often reluctant to implement practices that result in higher quality hay. In order to validate whether improved hay management actually reduces costs associated with winter feeding, field trial data was combined with Mississippi enterprise budgets to determine feed costs. The objective of this research was to further evaluate several perennial warm-season forage crops under varying N application strategies and harvest frequencies while also estimating total feed costs in combination with supplements to meet dietary nutrient requirements of a beef cow in peak lactation. Our hope is to further validate the necessity in adopting certain hay production practices by reinforcing the costs that are either saved or gained through their implementation.

System analysis A field trial was conducted during the 2018 and 2019 growing seasons at the Coastal Plain Branch Experiment Station in Newton, Miss. Four cultivars (two species) were evaluated: Pensacola bahiagrass (PEN), Argentine bahiagrass (ARG), Cheyenne II bermudagrass (CHE), and common bermudagrass (COM). Along with cultivar, total seasonal N rate (0, 100, 200, 300, and 400 pounds of N per acre per year) and harvest frequencies of 4, 3, 2, or 1 harvest per year, or every 30, 40, 60, and 120-day intervals, were applied to the plots. The total amount of N per treatment was divided by four and applied to each plot. For example, the 200 pounds N per acre treatment received four 50-pound applications. The N source used in this trial was 33-0-0-12S. Dry matter and nutritive value were analyzed from each plot to determine yield and supplement requirements. To assess total hay and supplement feeding costs, mean CP and TDN values were combined with assumptions for beef cattle nutrient requirements. Analysis assumed a 1,200-pound lactating cow that is two months postpartum with

19 pounds of peak milk and consuming 2.5% of her body weight each day. Based on these requirements, we calculated the difference in CP and TDN required by the cow that is being consumed, and if the hay did not provide enough nutrients, the addition of a supplement was included. Supplements used in this analysis included soybean hulls (SH) and corn gluten (CG); however, for this article, we will only focus on the SH analysis. Hay production costs were calculated as the total cost of production per pound of CP or TDN for each treatment. These costs were estimated using the Mississippi State University Forage Planning Budget. Costs included all operating expenses, such as spraying, fertilizing, baling, mowing, tedding, raking, and hauling (Table 1). The budgets also included machinery costs and interest in capital expenses. A cost per acre was determined using the forage budgets combined with field trial data. Differences between cost of production for harvest frequencies were calculated by multiplying cost per acre by the number of harvests. For the N treatments, a set cost per pound of N was determined and multiplied by the respective treatment rates. Supplement costs were determined by multiplying pounds of supplement needed by the price of SH (Mississippi state average in August 2020). The sum of the two feedstuffs (hay plus supplement) is the total feeding cost per head per day.

Feeding costs The total cost of hay production based on inputs and operational expenses per harvest minus N and custom application rates was $48.93 per acre. This value was used as the multiplier to determine cost per pound of dry matter for each

J. BRETT RUSHING The author is an associate research/extension professor with Mississippi State University. He’s based at the Coastal Plain Branch Experiment Station in Newton, Miss.

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Dollars per head per day

Figure 1. Daily feed cost as impacted by forage species, cultivar, and nitrogen rate.1,2


100 200 300 Nitrogen rate (pounds/acre/year)  ARG





Figure 2. Daily feed cost as impacted by forage species, cultivar, and harvest frequency. 1,2

Management implications Evaluating feeding costs, specifically dry hay, in conjunction with supplementation, is often the most critical process in generating positive net returns in southeastern U.S. beef cattle production enterprises. Minimizing the amount of hay needed can be directly related to the quality of hay produced and fed. Results indicate CP content of hay can be maintained relatively high by applying annual N at rates of 200 pounds per acre or greater and harvesting at frequencies of 40 days or less. However, in terms of TDN, the forage crops tested in our trial were not capable of meeting the energy demands of lactating beef cows. There are several other perennial warm-season species and cultivars, such as hybrid bermudagrass, that could be utilized instead of the seeded cultivars used in this analysis. However, supplementation would still be required to account for the energy deficit regardless of N rate or harvest frequency. Total feeding costs were influenced most noticeably by the N rate and harvest frequency, which have greater impacts on bahiagrass versus bermudagrass. In general, higher N rates combined with more frequent harvests produced greater amounts of hay at a lower cost, reducing the amount of supplementation and total feed costs. It is evident from the variation in total feed costs associated with the results from this trial that producers should evaluate hay quality to make profitable economic decisions on supplementation needs. •

4.00 3.50 3.00 2.50 2.00 1.50 1.00 0.50 0.00

Dollars per head per day

harvest and N treatment. Mississippi state average cost for SH was $176 per ton. In general, as N rate increased, total feed costs declined (Figure 1). Cost per head per day for ARG fertilized with 400 pounds of N per acre per year was 98 cents when using SH as a supplement with hay. Greater differences in total cost were observed for the bahiagrass cultivars than for the bermudagrass cultivars. For example, ARG fertilized with 400 pounds of N per acre was $2.34 less per head per day compared to the unfertilized control supplemented with SH. For CHE, the same N treatment with the same supplement was $0.68 less than the control. For harvest frequency analysis, costs for all cultivars with SH remained relatively stable until the 120-day harvest interval (Figure 2). Bahiagrass cultivars plus SH, in general, were greater in cost compared to bermudagrass cultivars.

3.50 3.00 2.50 2.00 1.50 1.00 0.50 0.00


40 60 Harvest frequency (days between harvest)  ARG





Dollars per head per day of hay plus the cost of soyhull supplement valued at $ 176 per ton Includes hay and supplementation cost for 1,200-pound lactating cow (two months postpartum with 19 pounds of peak milk and consuming 2.5% of body weight each day ARG = Argentine bahiagrass; PEN = Pensacola bahiagrass; CHE = Cheyenne II bermudagrass; COM = Common bermudagrass 1 2

Table 1. Costs for operating expenses, including inputs and custom application rates, for hay production in Mississippi. Input



Ammonium sulfate (33-0-0-12S)



Phosphate (0-46-0)



Potash (0-0-60)






Lime GrazonNext herbicide



Lambda-cy insecticide



Custom spray application rate




Custom fertilizer application rate



Hay baler (large round; MFWD2 115 hp)



Disc mower (8’; MFWD 85 hp)



Hay tedder (17’; 2WD 50 hp)



Hay rake (17’; 2WD 50 hp)






Hay haul



Prices for were obtained from statewide averages in June 2020 (Maples et al., 2020). 2 MFWD, mechanical front-wheel drive. 1

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by John Goeser

The current state of kernel processing

Still a hot topic As the KPS laboratory analysis matures, it continues to be one of the hottest topics with growers, dairy and beef producers, custom harvesters, and nutritionists. For example, during a recent invited talk in Manitowoc County, Wis., we were discussing corn silage quality and management, but the seminar took a sideways turn. While discussing the fact that this past year’s silage had harder grain and lower starch digestibility, we segued into a conversation about KPS. A custom harvester commented that he’s noticed his self-propelled harvester processes whole-plant corn differently when chopping different hybrids. He stated the observation was fairly evident, then asked if we knew how KPS interacted with hybrid types. We discussed hard and soft kernel characteristics, but in response to his question, I passed along that we don’t have much, if any, research in this area. Setting the

Figure 1: Corn silage kernel processing score distributions (2017 to 2021)*

2021 Crop year


ET us join together and wish the corn silage kernel processing score a belated happy 15th birthday! Gonzalo Ferriera and Dave Mertens published the original article detailing how kernel processing score (KPS) related to in vitro rumen corn silage digestibility in December 2005. Commercial laboratories adopted this assay over the following five years, and it has now been around commercially for well over a decade. For a quick refresher of the laboratory technique, the KPS equates to the percent of corn silage starch passing through a 4.75-millimeter (mm) sieve of a laboratory shaker. Think of this sieve as being like a sandbox strainer that many children entertain themselves with. Small sand particles pass through the strainer while larger particles or rocks do not. The 4.75 mm gap is a similar width to a .22 caliber bullet, as we discussed in the February 2016 Hay and Forage Grower article titled “What’s the score?” Halved or whole kernels are captured on the 4.75 mm sieve, and obliterated kernels pass right through. Hence, 70% means that seven out of 10 kernels were processed well enough to pass right through a 4.75 mm gap.

2020 2019 2018 2017 40




* Rock River Laboratory between crop year 2017 through 2021. Crop year is defined as Sept 1 to the current date. Vertical black lines represent the 15th, 50th and 85th percentiles.

specific question aside, the room lit up with discussion around the topic. It was clear evidence to me that KPS remains relevant, and there’s much yet to learn. From an end-user perspective, we’ve embraced the notion that corn silage kernels should be extremely well processed to optimize dairy and beef performance. More obliterated kernels logically would correlate to better grain digestion and use in cattle. Various field surveys have documented negative correlations between dairy fecal starch content and corn silage kernel processing score. This could be meaningful because we know that fecal starch content is directly tied to total tract starch digestibility. While correlation between KPS and fecal starch or total tract starch digestibility does not prove causation, logic suggests the field survey results are meaningful. This year, KPS at harvest seems to be more important than ever, recognizing that the 2021 growing season generally yielded a corn crop with harder grain. In fact, dairy fecal starch measures have reflected this, so many are wondering what to do differently in the future, and KPS keeps coming up.

More to learn In the absence of research, we don’t have a solid grasp of how a 10-unit bump in KPS may relate to dairy or beef production. Better understanding this relationship would be beneficial for economic projections, knowing we can always improve KPS by increasing roll differential and closing roll gaps to 1 mm or less. However, there are horsepower, diesel, and cost consider-

ations when we push the extremes. Peer reviewed and published research would help us balance cost versus impact. In 2022, we’re still left with a general understanding that a higher KPS is better for dairy or beef performance. Our industry appears to have reached a plateau in year over year KPS results as shown in Figure 1. From 2010 to 2017, it was clear that the industry improved KPS as the population distributions shifted higher and higher. Then, in 2017, the distribution of KPS results settled in from year to year. Now it appears we’ve plateaued around 70% KPS, with the upper 15th percentile being just under 80%. For the time being, and in the absence of research, this upper 15th percentile should be our KPS goal for optimal dairy or beef performance. In the future, I hope to be part of discussions that help balance the cost versus benefit. We also need to recognize that KPS has a different meaning to dairy or beef farm economics at $5 to $6 per bushel corn prices relative to $2 to $3 per bushel price points of years past. With today’s thin margins and expensive grain prices, we need to capture every bit of value per kernel that is possible. • JOHN GOESER The author is the director of nutrition research and innovation with Rock River Lab Inc, and adjunct assistant professor, University of WisconsinMadison’s Dairy Science Department.

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FORAGE IQ 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 Alfalfa & Stored Forage Conference February 24, Bowling Green, Ky. Details: forages.ca.uky.edu Novel Endophyte Renovation Workshops March 8, Virtual at 6 to 9 p.m. ET March 23, Springhill, Tenn. March 30, Keedysville, Md. Details: grasslandrenewal.org Silage for Beef Cattle Conference March 17, Ithaca, Neb. Details: bit.ly/HFG-SFBC22 Central Plains Dairy Expo March 29 to 31, Sioux Falls, S.D. Details: centralplainsdairy.com Grassfed Exchange Conference May 18 to 20, Fort Worth, Texas Details: grassfedexchange.com



Bullish hay market for 2022 There are few reasons to believe that hay markets won’t remain strong and active going into 2022. With December hay stocks down 6% and declining hay acres, supplies should remain tight, especially on high-quality hay. Drought has taken its toll on both hay production and available pasture, forcing more hay to be fed. Even if

2022 offers more moisture in parched regions, it will take time to build hay inventories. Further, hay exports to China remain strong heading into the new year. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of mid-January. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted. •

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

Price $/ton 335 365 260 200 225 220-255 200-280 190-265 200-250 250 190 250 280-300 300-315 250 Price $/ton 270 280 250 270 280 160-178 235 235-250 185-235 195 160-200 300-350 215 185 352 245-275 200 250-260 290 295 240-260 Price $/ton 250 290 237 240 180 150-165 195 160-230 185-215 160-170 290 140-150 200-220 160 130

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

250 165-185 165-180 235-260 230 140-165 200 Price $/ton 235 290-300 200 235-240 105-120 150 175 150 100-125 260-275 125 170 160 145-155 210-250 100 Price $/ton 110-133 60-90 250-270 145 120-160 Price $/ton 70-100 150 Price $/ton 240 350 250-270 170-225 320 Price $/ton 200 200-210 350 Price $/ton 140 135 130 Price $/ton 120 110-145 60-85 75-110 80-150 100



(d) (d)



(d) (d)

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

38 | Hay & Forage Grower | February 2022

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like to seed alfalfa after soybeans if they’re off early enough,” he said. “We don’t even till the ground.” Foos noted that volunteer wheat is a challenge. “We disk to get it to germinate, then burn it off before seeding, but it seems to keep on coming. That takes the first cutting out of the horse market.” Recently, timothy has been tried as an alfalfa rotation-breaking crop, but Russell and Foos noted that they haven’t got that system perfected just yet. Twelve pounds of coated alfalfa seed and 8 pounds of a late-maturing orchardgrass are seeded per acre. “If we go higher with alfalfa and lower with the orchardgrass, we just don’t get enough of the grass, and the alfalfa out competes it,” Russell said. “Our goal is a 50:50 mix.” On average, that mix annually averages about 5 tons of dry matter per acre.

Horse, of course “A lot of people predicted the demise of the small square bale, but as long

as there are horses and their owners in this country, the market for small square bales will remain healthy,” Russell asserted. When asked about his clientele, Russell said, “We sell to feed retailers who then may sell to individual horse owners. We also supply hay for racetrack trainers and to an equestrian college. Most of our clients are the same year after year.” For the most part, their customers arrange the trucking, which was sometimes a real challenge in 2021. “I bet we lost sales on 20 to 30 loads of straw this year because of transportation problems,” Foos said. “Both drivers and containers were in short supply.” What isn’t in short supply at J.D. Russell Hay & Straw is the drive and passion to efficiently produce top-quality horse hay. With a longtime baler problem now solved, a next generation in place, and still plenty of horses to feed, this operation seems poised to ensure that small square bales won’t be put on the extinct species list anytime soon. •

National Hay Association has much to offer This past fall, John Russell was elected president of the National Hay Association (NHA) at their annual convention in San Diego, Calif. “I’m obviously biased, but I truly believe that anyone who wants to keep up with the latest innovations should consider joining NHA,” Russell said emphatically. “There’s so much to learn from others in the business, and I’ve never found a better venue to learn than by spending a few days with haymakers from around the U.S. You don’t get a sales pitch, you just get opinions from people with hands-on, real-life experience. I know for sure that I’m a better haymaker because of NHA,” he added. As president, Russell will be heavily involved with formulating an agenda for next September’s NHA convention, which will be held in Perrysburg, Ohio. Field and equipment demonstrations at J.D. Russell Hay & Straw promise to be a highlight of the event. For more details or to join the NHA, visit nationalhay.org.

4 Safe practices 4 Educational Resources




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occur quickly. Also, push feed up more frequently since cattle will spend more time at the bunk eating when they are fed high-forage diets.

Focus on NDF intake

Mike Rankin

Feeding a high-forage dairy diet has benefits by Sydney Meyer


EEDING dairy cattle high-forage diets can improve overall herd health, improve milk component levels, and lower feed costs. According to Iowa State University’s Gail Carpenter, a 2017 survey of feed industry professionals reported that 91% of operations boosted forage feeding levels in herds during the past 10 to 15 years. “Several reasons for this are home-grown feeds are cost effective and high-forage diets promote the production of milk components,” Carpenter said. “This equals increased income over feed costs.” According to the assistant professor in dairy production, another reason more people are feeding high-forage diets is because of advances made in plant genetics, forage management, and forage quality. “There are a lot of benefits to feeding dairy cattle a high-forage diet,” Carpenter said in a recent webinar. “Feeding high-forage diets can improve milk component levels, improve longevity in herds, allow for more voluntary culling, improve income over feed costs, decrease acidosis, cause fewer foot health problems, and lower vet costs.” The dairy specialist also noted sev-

eral downsides to feeding high-forage diets to dairy cattle. Forages vary in digestibility based on factors such as maturity, dry matter, drought conditions, and plant genetics. According to Carpenter, a general rule of thumb is that digestibility declines as forage biomass accumulates. Additionally, forages are susceptible to mold and toxins. Forages are less palatable than the concentrates in a mixed diet, so convincing cows to eat them can pose a challenge as well.

Improved rumen health Carpenter said that high forage diets are what generally keeps the rumen happy. “If you have a happy rumen, you will have higher milk components, which is what we are focusing on with a high-forage diet,” she said. To achieve an optimum rumen environment, Carpenter noted that feed management plays a vital role when increasing the forages being fed. Avoid overstocking, as cattle will spend more of their day at the bunk eating forages, allowing the boss cows more time to eat than the submissive ones. If possible, separate first-lactation cows from older cows. If the weather is hot and lots of fermented forages are being fed, feed more frequently because spoilage can

Carpenter said that when talking about high-forage diets, rather than focusing on the percent of the ration that is forage, it’s more useful to assess neutral detergent fiber (NDF) intake. “Generally, a good rule of thumb is 75% of NDF in a ration is coming from forages and the remainder from concentrates,” she said. “Total NDF intake is going to be limited in most cows at about 1.1% to 1.2% of a cow’s body weight. Field data from farms feeding high-forage diets suggest this can go even higher to 1.4%. Therefore, if 75% of NDF is coming from forage, then 0.9% of a cow’s body weight will come from NDF in the forage.”

Monitor cattle performance “The keys for success to a high-forage diet boils down to feeding good-quality forage and needing a lot of it,” Carpenter said. “Inventory can be a struggle with a high-forage diet on some farms. When evaluating inventory, consider that the cows will probably eat more when they move to a high-forage diet, so you will need 15% to 30% more forage to account for the increase in dry matter intake.” To determine whether cows are doing well after incorporating more forages in the diet, Carpenter said the most important aspect to monitor is feed intake, which should be increasing. Monitor the cattle’s rumination with a rumination monitor or simply check that at least 50% of cows are chewing their cud when resting after eating. Keep an eye on manure consistency and if there are any whole corn kernels, which might indicate a processing issue. If there is a lot of fiber in manure, passage rates are likely too high, so consider incorporating something to slow it down. Expect milkfat percentage to stay the same or improve, but if it declines the cattle are likely sorting the feed or the particle size is too fine. • SYDNEY MEYER The author is a freelance writer who lives in Brookings, S.D. She was raised on a cattle ranch near Spearfish, S.D., and earned an agricultural communications degree from South Dakota State.

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