There are a lot of unknowns heading into 2017, but dairy farmers across much of the country should anticipate feeding some of their best forage in years.

Having labs in California, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin to analyze forages gives John Goeser, animal nutrition and R&I director for Rock River Laboratory, a good grasp of what to expect nationally. Fiber levels across the country look to be down. Hay, haylage and corn silage all should have improved energy compared to 2015’s harvest, Goeser says.

Conversely, Relative Feed Value (RFV) for hay and haylage isn’t quite at the optimal levels, but it has been fairly consistent going from the East to Midwest to West. Goeser doesn’t look at RFV as much in his analysis. He encourages farmers who are buying forage on RFV parameters to consider Relative Forage Quality (RFQ). RFQ can better predict how that fiber will actually feed.

One advantage Western producers have is the ability to make “tremendous hay,” Goeser says. The drier weather conditions and access to irrigation help with production of quality forage in the region.

“It is a little more difficult to make hay in the Midwest and the East where Mother Nature blesses us with quite a bit of rain,” Goeser adds.

In the East and Midwest, fiber quality in 2016 harvested forage looks like it is better than the previous year. Western producers held pretty steady in fiber quality. Using Total Tract NDF Digestibility (TTNDFD) to measure fiber quality, Goeser would like to see forages greater than 46% TTNDFD for an average across the industry (now at 42%).

After looking at the quality of feed across the U.S. Goeser calculated what producers in particular areas can expect from the performance of their cows based on pounds of milk per day:

Western dairy farmers should see similar cow performance because the growing environment can be controlled and there isn’t as much year-to-year variability. Goeser says the West doesn’t have the same quality of corn silage as other areas so that pulls down cow performance expectations.

Drought conditions in the Northeast for states like New York have led to yield losses, but it should still be high-quality feed. “I think there should be more milk potential from forage for producers in the East,” Goeser says.

Similar to the East, the Midwest should have great haylage to feed, at least from the first crop. Rain variability might pull down performance for later crops. “It looks like more milk should come from this year’s haylage,” Goeser says.

However, there could be an anti-nutrition component with this year’s corn silage because of all the moisture received in the Midwest that delayed harvest. The delay led to drier than normal corn silage. Challenges include starch digestion suffering from harder grains and the stored crop might not be as stable because fermentation won’t happen as well with drier silage packs.

This year producers who harvested prior to the second week of September had the highest quality forages.


Note: This story appears in the December issue of Dairy Herd Management.