Keys to a profitable forage program

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By Rick Greenwell

REMEMBER YOU ARE A FORAGE FARMER - Forage typically accounts for over half the cost of production of forage – consuming animals and provides most of their nutrition.  Thus, it has a major influence on both expenses and income Forage is the crop and animals are the harvesters or consumers.  Efficient forage production and utilization are essential to a profitable operation.

KNOW FORAGE OPTIONS, ANIMAL NUTRITIONAL NEEDS, AND ESTABLISHMENT REQUIREMENTS – Forages vary as to adaptation, growth distribution, forage quality, yield, and potential uses.  Various types and classes of animals have different nutritional needs.  Good planting decisions depend on knowing forage options for your land resources and the nutritional needs of your animals.  Use of high quality seed (certified, if available) of proven varieties, and attention to detail during planting lead to establishment success.

SOIL TEST, THEN LIME AND FERTILIZE AS NEEDED – This practice, more than any other, affects the level and economic efficiency of forage production.  Fertilizing and liming as needed help ensure good yields, improve forage quality, lengthen stand life, and reduce weed problems.

USE LEGUMES WHENEVER FEASIBLE – Legumes offer important advantages including improved forage quality and biological nitrogen fixation, whether grownalone or with grasses.  Every producer should regularly consider on a field-by-field basis whether the introduction or enhancement of legumes would be beneficial and feasible.  Once legumes have been established, proper management optimizes benefits.

EMPHASIZE FOAGE QUALITY – High animal gains, milk production, and reproductive efficiency require adequate nutrition.  Producing high quality forage necessitates knowing the factors that affect forage quality and using appropriate management.  Matching forage quality to animal nutritional needs greatly increase efficiency.

PREVENT OR MINIMIZE PESTS AND PLANT-RELATED DISORDERS    - Disease, insects, nematodes, and weeds are thieves that lower yields, reduce forage quality and palatability, and/or steal water, nutrients, light and space from forage plants.  Knowledge of potential animal disorders caused by plants can help avoid them.

STRIVE TO IMPROVE PASTURE UTILIZATION – The quantity and quality of pasture growth vary over time.  Periodic adjustments in stocking rate or use of cross fencing to vary the type or amount of available forage can greatly affect animal performance and pasture species composition.  Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of different grazing methods allows use of various approaches as needed to reach objectives.  Matching stocking rates with forage production is also extremely important.

MINIMIZE STORED FEED REQUIRMENTS – Stored feed s one of the most expensive aspects of animal production, so lowering requirements reduces costs.  Extending the grazing season with use of both cool season and warm season forages, stockpiling forage, and grazing crop residues are examples of ways stored feed needs can be reduced.

REDUCE STOAGE AND FEEDING LOSSES- Wasting hay, silage or other stored feed is costly!  On many farms the average storage loss for round bales stored outside exceeds 30%, and feeding losses can easily be as high or higher.  Minimizing waste with good management, forage testing, and ration formulation enhances feeding efficiency, animal performance, and profits.

IT’S UP TO YOU – Rarely, if ever, do we get something for nothing.  In human endeavors, results are usually highly correlated with investments in terms of thought, time, effort, and a certain amount of money.  In particular, the best and most profitable forage programs have had the most thought put into them.