Keep Your Feeding Program Priorities Straight this Fall/Winter

The busyness of the summer season is finally over, but it has some producers staring out into their fields wondering what they need to do to help stretch their feed inventories throughout the fall and winter.

Donna Amaral-Philips, Extension Professor at the University of Kentucky, recommends these five tips when it comes to keeping your feeding priorities straight during the fall and winter months.

1. Develop a plan for using homegrown forages and determine whether you need to purchase other forages.

“To devise this plan, sample all forages and submit representative samples to a forage testing laboratory to determine their nutrient content,” Amaral-Philips says. “Forage samples taken at the beginning of the feeding season can serve as a starting place for balancing rations.”

Additional forage samples should also be taken throughout the feeding season to gain a better understanding of the nutrient content. Single samples help to identify a baseline, while three to four samples taken throughout the season help better describe the nutrient content of the forages being fed.

It’s also important to take inventory of forages and commodities in storage. “With this information, you can allocate forages stored separately to the various groups of animals and determine shortfalls so that forages can be purchased or other feedstuffs can be added to rations being fed,” Amaral-Philips notes.

2. Balance rations for all groups of cattle on the dairy operation using the inventory and forage analyses.

“Dairy cattle need nutrients, not ingredients, to support body maintenance, milk production, and growth,” Amaral-Philips says. “Rations also are balanced to provide these nutrients not only at the least cost, but to optimize performance. Various combinations of forages and other commodities can meet nutrient needs and may result in cost savings.”

According to Amaral-Philips, because of increased volatility in commodity prices, dairy farmers should follow ingredient prices and reevaluate feeding programs frequently.

3. Review feeding practices with the person feeding the dairy’s lactating cows, heifers, and dry cows.

Going over feeding practices with your team helps ensure cows are fed correctly, consistently. Take time to review standard operating procedures with employees and point out operational changes during the fall and winter months.

4. Work closely with your nutritionist and other consultants to develop and modify the feeding and overall management program throughout the feeding season.

“Constantly work on developing an ongoing relationship that results in dialog among all parties. It can help to improve your bottom line to discuss different ways to group, feed, and/or manage your herd,” Amaral-Philips says.  “Sometimes, producers incorrectly believe that they do not need to oversee and/or understand feeding and nutritional concepts. Understanding these concepts is critical for dialog and to understand when and how to make minor adjustments or temporary changes before they become disasters.”

5. Start making plans for the next cropping season.

According to Amaral-Philips, now is the time to evaluate whether to make changes to your cropping system or forage purchasing plans for next year. Work with your nutritionist, agronomist, or extension agent to help determine what seed varieties will work best for your operation in the upcoming season.

“Using your forage analyses, review whether your harvesting (or forage harvesters) techniques have resulted in the highest-quality forages needed to feed high-producing dairy cows and whether you need to make changes. Then, complete a plan to incorporate these changes into next year’s cropping season,” Amaral-Philips adds.

Source: Dairy Herd Management, OCTOBER 2021