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Dairy Sense: Planning Forage Inventory for 2021

Dairy Sense: Planning Forage Inventory for 2021
By Virginia A. Ishler
Production perspective:
The drought experienced by producers throughout the state has left them scrambling for alternative forage sources. Double cropping a small grain after harvesting corn silage and even soybeans is an option. Rye and triticale are the common grains planted that can be harvested in spring 2021. Hopefully, next year will not be a repeat of this past summer, but no one can predict the weather that far into the future. Now is the time to plan forage needs for next year so there is ample carryover of hay-crop and corn silage. Keeping rations consistent for the lactating and dry cows goes a long way to maintain high levels of performance.
Dairy operations require a minimum of 1.5 acres per cow to minimize purchased feed costs and to fulfill the needs of all animal groups. Table 1 illustrates a 1300-cow dairy and the acreage needed to meet the herd’s minimum forage needs. This is a starting point and does not account for acres that may be double cropped. It also does not account for yield, which can have a significant impact on feed inventory. If yields are optimal, corn grain and soybeans can be raised to help offset feed cost or they can be sold as a cash crop.
Table 1. Estimated acreage needed to feed a dairy operation milking 1200 cows.
Animal NumbersBody WeightCow EquivalentTotal Cows
1215 milk cows1350 lbs.11215
135 dry cows1500 lbs.1.11149
250 pre-weaned calves350 lbs.0.2665
722 weaned heifers to 12 months650 lbs.0.48347
632 heifers > 12 months850 lbs.0.63398
Total animals
2174 x 1.5 acres = 3261 acres (owned and rented)
In Pennsylvania, many herds have adopted double cropping as a standard part of their cropping program to enhance their forage inventory. Based on data compiled by the Extension Dairy Team, there is a lot of variability in yield, which then equates to extreme differences in cost per ton. For the past two years 238 dairy operations showed the following as-fed tons per acre for small grain silage: 48 percent averaged 4.1; 24 percent averaged 6.4; and 28 percent averaged 8.9. With almost half of the operations with extremely low yields, there appears to be opportunity for improvement. It is noteworthy the herds with low yields also had the highest percentage (70 percent) of rented land used for small grain silage compared to 37 percent for the high yielding farms. The higher yielding farms are investing more money in seed and fertilizer per acre, which appears to be paying off. The cost to produce small grain silage for the low yielding farms averaged $58/ton compared to the highest yielding farms of $31/ton. The average market price for small grain silage combined for 2018 and 2019 was $66/ton (Penn State Feed Price List).
No one can predict what next year’s harvest season will bring. However, evaluating the cropping enterprise now to assess forage inventory seems prudent. If an operation is consistently struggling with low yields on small grains, then seeking advice from crop consultants on management changes would prove beneficial. Improving efficiency on home raised feeds is a solid approach to improving overall farm profitability compared to purchasing forages and being at the mercy of the markets.
Economic perspective:
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows, income over feed cost is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production. Starting with July 2014’s milk price, income over feed cost was calculated using average intake and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration contained 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion included corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices were used.
Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.
Income over feed cost using standardized rations and production data from the Penn State dairy herd.
Note: September’ Penn State milk price: $17.34/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.28; average milk production: 80 lbs.
Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.
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