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Custom feed and forage production

Russell McLucas Published on 08 September 2010

Over the last few years there has been some increasing interest in custom feed and forage production.

Custom production is a forage or a grain raised specifically for a given market or buyer. Our operation has done this for a couple years now and this article will share some thoughts about how things have gone for us.

One of the strong points of our program is the choice of corn hybrids prior to planting. Our forage varieties are high in digestible quality.

We do not look at highest yield, but rather at highest quality per feed unit. Most reputable seed suppliers and some agricultural schools do extensive forage testing, so you can look to them for results that can point you in the right direction.

One of the more interesting crops we are now marketing is a brown midrib forage sorghum. This crop is proving to be a great fit on our shallow, shaley soils and is yielding close to corn, if not better, particularly under drought stress. The forage sample tests have been running roughly 95 percent of the corn forage samples from our production. Since these sorghums do not set a “combinable head,” it is imperative to have them marketed before planting.

Hay production is a favorite of mine. We do not market much with the local horse market, as in this area it is almost 100 percent small squares that are “pretty” (eye-appealing but not necessarily of high quality).

On occasion we do a limited amount for “extreme high quality,” normally for cutting horses. Here we use a brome grass, cut prehead, field-cured, raked dry and then small squared baled, hand-stacked and mowed.

Our directed hay market is into the dairy industry, with a concentration on dry cows and bred replacement heifers. This market looks for a long stem, dry, leafy and somewhere in the range of a 95 to 105 RFV. Not really an eye-appealing hay, and not a “milk hay,” but a very necessary product for calving ease and post-calving health.

We have also done some dedicated grain production, and here some serious questioning of seed suppliers is in order. Many corns have different levels of digestibility, so it is important to consider what it is being fed to. We sell some high-moisture corn into dairy herds, some as dry into poultry operations and some to a sheep feeder.

The differences in digestibility between animals should determine the choice of hybrid for market. On the financial side of things, our preferred method of charge is a “cost plus” basis where all production costs are billed along with an agreed-upon percentage above cost.

Corn is normally cost plus 15 percent, as that figure can vary wildly per ton. Our experiences have led us to believe that per-ton billing does not reflect the additional management and costs necessary to produce a higher-quality product.

Another interesting option here is “billing as progressing,” where as each month is completed, production expenses that month are billed out.  FG

Use forage varieties high in digestible quality. Do not look at highest yield, but rather at highest quality per feed unit. Photo courtesy of Russell McLucas.