Now that crops are in storage it’s time to plan the forage utilization for 2016. It is tempting to rely on previous experience in determining forage needs. However, this can lead to some costly management mistakes.

Forage quality has a large impact on feed cost, animal performance and health. As an example, high quality corn silage with low fiber (<25%ADF, <35% NDF) and high energy (>0.76 Mcal/lb. of DM) supplies nutrients very economically. Rations using this forage as compared to average quality corn silage might consist of 3 more lb. of DM from corn silage and replace needed supplemental energy from corn grain or other energy sources. For every 100 cows this would amount to 156 more tons of corn silage used annually. High utilization might result in depletion of the inventory before the next year’s crop is harvested. Likewise poorer quality silage will be used in lower amounts but will require more supplemental energy sources and higher purchased feed costs.

To prevent these mistakes:

  • Estimate supply for each forage type. Within forage types it is advantageous to store varieties (BMR vs. conventional corn silage) and cuttings of hay crops separately so that they can be used most effectively. Inventories can be estimated by counting truck loads or using spreadsheets such as the Silocap spreadsheet available from the Virginia Tech Dairy Extension website ( Don’t forget to incorporate liberal estimates of shrink!
  • Estimate forage quality by samplingforages prior to ensiling with the understanding that small changes in nutrient content may occur. This practice allows considerable advance planning for forage utilization.
  • Allocate best quality in the following order: close-up and fresh cows, high, medium and low producers. Grouping cows according to nutrient requirements will return economic benefits.
  • Calves less than 4 months of age should receive the highest quality hay crop forages to stimulate intake and rumen function.
  • The poorest quality forages (every farm has some poorer quality forage) is relegated to bred heifers and far off dry cows that require less nutrient dense rations. Allocating time to estimate available forage supply and quality will enable the best utilization of the forage inventory. If a forage deficit is anticipated, it’s easier to acquire needed forage in the fall than in the spring when forages to purchase may be in short supply.