Although the 2013 growing season featured much more precipitation than the previous year in Illinois, that doesn’t mean dairymen had an easy time producing high-quality forage for their herds.  

“Some of you are facing a forage cliff that is a little different than a year ago,” said Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois dairy specialist emeritus. “You have a little different kind of crop this year compared to other years.”  

Hutjens spoke at the “Focusing on Profitability” 2014 Dairy Summit. During 2013, more than 1.7 million acres of alfalfa were winter killed, he reported at the meeting.  

In addition, a wet spring delayed corn planting, which also delayed cutting alfalfa. Then some areas experienced dry areas in August and September, there was a killing frost in mid-September in some areas and some corn was green and immature in October.  

Hutjens provided several options for dairymen to consider when they have reduced forage production.

“If you planted winter wheat for next spring, that can be a very high-quality crop,” he said. “It can produce from one to two tons of dry matter per acre in the boot stage or three to four tons of dry matter per acre if you let it go to the dough stage.”  

Other options are late-planted corn in July that can yield from three to four tons of dry matter per acre or a fall cereal grain such as oats has the potential to produce from one to two tons of dry matter per acre.

“I’m not sure what hand you will get dealt to you next May, June or July, so these are opportunities to consider,” Hutjens said.  

Some dairymen are switching to making shredlage instead of haylage.  

To produce effective fiber with shredlage, Hutjens said, the feed should include five pounds of feed particles over three-quarters of an inch and less than two inches in length.

“The particles should be under two inches to prevent sorting by the cows,” he added.  

However, processing shredlage feed will add some costs.

“It will cost an additional $25 per hour to cover extra fuel and other costs,” Hutjens said. “You will need two gallons more fuel per hour and you will pay from $1.50 to $2 more per ton to custom operators to cover their costs.”

Kernel-processing score is another tool dairymen can use to evaluate feed.

“This data from a Wisconsin lab shows that less than 20 percent of the samples were in the excellent category,” Hutjens noted.  

“If your kernel-processing score is adequate and you move up to an excellent score, that’s two pounds more milk and all you did was process the feed correctly,” he said. “However if you do a poor job and go to a poor kernel-processing score, you give up another two pounds of milk.”  

Hutjens recommends all dairymen use a program such as FeedVal 2012 to evaluate the various feeds they have available to put in a ration.

“For FeedVal 2012, you pick whatever feeds you want to use and you put in your feed values,” he explained.  

As farmers and livestock producers know, no two years are the same, and it seems like each year presents some type of challenge. With the very low temperatures we’ve been experiencing and the multiple snow storms, I wonder what kind of growing season we will have this year.