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How to handle 2014’s compromised crops

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 06 February 2015

The lab results are in – and the diagnosis is a challenging year ahead as crops harvested in 2014 were not quite up to par.

At the PDPW Dairy Feed and Nutrition Conference in November, Dr. Mike Hutjens from the University of Illinois shared testing results from Midwest forage laboratories and outlined the steps he’d take to manage feedout.

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The biggest risks, Hutjens said, come from low-quality legume/grass forage, immature and wet corn silage, and mycotoxins in wet corn grain.

Dairy producers and their nutritionists must focus on maintaining rumen and cow health while not losing sight of profitability.

In terms of forage energy, Hutjens said he prefers the following benchmarks: neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFd), 50 to 65 percent; starch in corn silage, greater than 30 percent; relative forage quality (RFQ), greater than 150 points; and total tract NDF digestibility (TTNDFd), greater than 48.

“It’s a benchmark,” Hutjens said. “If you don’t like my benchmarks, use your benchmarks.”

Haylage quality

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Dairyland Laboratories took in 28,130 samples of Midwest haylage from June 1 through Sept. 1. When compared to a relative sample base from the three previous years, crude protein values are about the same, NDF is higher, NDFd at 30 hours is less than 45 percent for the majority of samples, and RFQ, for the most part, is below 140. Overall, this year’s haylage is high in fiber and low in energy.

Hay and haylage samples at Rock River Laboratory echoed the above results with no change in protein and lower digestibility of fiber.

Corn silage quality

Samples of “fresh” corn silage taken in early fall and submitted to Rock River Laboratory reportedly were at 37 percent for TTNDFd, 32 percent for starch and 47 percent for NDF. “Lignin was way up there at 3.77,” he said. “That’s great for firewood.”

Corn silage samples at Dairyland Laboratories were very typical on moisture, compared to previous years, but higher in NDF and starch.

Mold, yeast and mycotoxin

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Half of the corn silage samples at Dairyland Laboratories had high yeast counts. Only one sample could be suspect for aflatoxin, while zearalenone and vomitoxin were reported with 12 percent suspect samples.

“Corn silage, except for yeast and bacteria, looks pretty safe,” Hutjens said. “Should you go out and sample? I say ‘no.’”

Corn grain is fairly similar with higher wild yeast and mold counts. Again there is only one suspect aflatoxin sample, and zearalenone, vomitoxin and T2 counts look pretty good.

While these counts were representative for the crop condition in early November, Hutjens cautioned grain measurements could differ later in winter as corn buried in snow is harvested.

Take-home messages

Hutjens recommended producers test, test and re-test to stay on top of forage quality. “It’s probably going to change,” he said. “It could be better or it could be worse.”

The lower NDFd and TTNDFd will lower feed intake, energy and milk yield. His suggestion is to dilute down 2014 forages by adding other quality forages, substituting byproduct feeds higher in NDFd and adding more corn.

Hutjens had breakeven prices for beet pulp at $148; corn gluten, $225; soy hulls, $179; fuzzy cottonseed, $225; and wheat midds, $181. At the time of his presentation, corn gluten, soybean hulls and wheat midds were priced so they would be a good buy.

Even though fuzzy cottonseed was running $55 higher than breakeven, Hutjens said he’d consider purchasing it because in his book it is a great product and worth paying more for it.

“That’s the alternative. Start swapping out the low-quality NDFd. Start with 2 pounds, and if the cows figure it out, go to 4 pounds,” Hutjens said.

An online tool that can help determine which feeds to use is the University of Wisconsin’s FeedVal 2012. Producers or nutritionists can check the feeds they want to see and enter their own local feed values. It will show which feeds are a good buy and which ones are not based on a predicted value.

Regular testing and feed substitutions is the treatment Hutjens suggested to combat forage challenges from 2014’s crop. PD

karen lee

Karen Lee
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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