Early Spring opened Up Forage Option, Presented Challenges

Chopping fresh feed in early April was a reality this year.

Published on: Apr 23, 2012

Last year was not a good year for producing forage in volume, especially in areas hit hard by the drought. One hay producer noted, "We got to the third cutting of alfalfa and it's normally the best, but in places we got more weeds than anything else. There just wasn't enough rain to keep the alfalfa going." That's saying something since alfalfa is known as a deep-rooted crop.

The shortage of forage has left livestock people scrambling this year, especially in late winter and early spring. Some sought out hay providers they normally don't deal with who had some hay left, often older hay. When the early spring bust out, others decided to do something they normally wouldn't do- start chopping green forage in early April.

Early Spring opened Up Forage Option, Presented Challenges
Early Spring opened Up Forage Option, Presented Challenges

Dandy Breeze Dairy, Sheridan, operated by Tom and Sally Waitt, milks about 30 Jerseys and maintains 60 head on the farm. They sowed triticale last fall. A little-used cross between wheat and rye, they've found a fit for it in getting early growth so they can make an early forage. By early April, they were feeding high-moisture triticale to their dairy cows in round-bale feeders, and seeing good results. The triticale was large enough to harvest since late March was so warm.

However, the slowdown in temperatures in the first half of April have prevented some people who intended to do the same thing with rye or other fall crops from doing the same thing. Most of these people are counting on the green-chopped forage to help them get away from needing to buy expensive hay, or searching for hay that isn't sometimes of the best quality once they find it.

Another large dairy made an interesting decision recently. Knowing they will run tight on corn silage because the dry summer limited their crop last year, they decided to plant a silage hybrid April 10, much earlier than they normally do in their area. They're hoping the corn will be ready to chop relatively early, so they can replenish their bunker and have feed for the herd without running out of their normal feedstuff.