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Forage Types

Hay, silage and pasture is your business, and it's our focus. Take your operation to the next level with the help of our comprehensive and practical information, education and technology about various forage types.

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Traditionally, silage production in the United States has consisted of precision-chopping a standing row crop (corn) or a swathed forage (alfalfa, red clover, small grains, etc.) and subsequently storing the chopped forage in tower- or bunker-type silos. During the last 20 years, high-quality plastics have been adapted to provide a new storage system for precision-chopped silage. In this system, silage is fed into a machine, often called a “bagger,” that packs the silage into long plastic tubes which serve as temporary silos.

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Regardless of the size of an operation, dairy producers know problems occur in every silage program. This [article] describes possible causes and solutions for eight common pitfalls, which include.

Dairy producers (and their nutritionist) should discuss these problems and solutions with everyone on their silage team as a reminder to implement the best possible silage management practices.

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Warmer weather can bring a whole new set of issues related to silage quality and feeding value, which affect dry matter intake (DMI) by high-producing cows. During warmer weather, the tendency for growth of any yeast and bacteria present on the plants before ensiling increases greatly compared to their growth in cooler weather. Silo management or feeding may need to be altered to minimize these problems.

Yeasts are normally present on plants as they grow in the field. These multiply to some extent while crops are wilting in the windrow (in the case of haylage) or after chopping and before air exclusion in the silo (in the case of silage). Limiting the growth of these unwanted species of single-celled organisms is one of the reasons we stress packing silage quickly and completely.

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Current prices for alfalfa hay and many other feeds are causing beef and dairy producers to give fresh consideration to alternative forage sources for cattle. Kentucky bluegrass straw is a little-used feedstuff that can be successfully fed to dairy cattle; in addition, feeding bluegrass straw reduces air emissions from field burning. In the Animal Sciences Department at Washington State University, we have evaluated bluegrass straw for dairy cows in late lactation. We limited bluegrass straw to less than 15 percent of the diet for lactating dairy cows.

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Forage quality is one of the key driving factors that determine milk production, rumen health and profitability on dairy farms. The benefits of high-quality, highly digestible forages for use in dairy cattle rations is widely accepted by both dairy producers and the nutrition advisors that work with them.

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Forages are the foundation for building diets for dairy cattle. The quality of these forages directly impacts forage intake, animal performance and ultimately profitability. As the quality of forages decline, consumption of that forage decreases and the amount of grain or byproducts which must be fed increases. The cost for a unit of performance increases or the animal cannot perform (i.e., milk or gain) to the optimum level, lowering profitability to the animal owner. These relationships are especially true with young and high-performance ruminants, such as high-producing dairy cows.

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