The drought in the southwest in 2011 gave rise to some unique feeding situations. With forage production reduced to 20-30 % of normal, many new feeds and feeding strategies came into play.
Let’s discuss what we learned first. We learned that the dairy cow can make a lot of milk with a variety of ingredients and ingredient combinations. In other words, we can be extremely flexible in what we feed. The second thing we learned, was that drought makes forage much more digestible, especially NDF. So even though starch levels were reduced in corn silage, energy values were good, because the fiber was extremely digestible. The other thing we learned was that we can replace forage fiber with by-product fiber and do very well. Rations that used the NDF from commodities were extremely successful. Forage levels under 30% worked, as long as the NDF levels were in the 28-32% range.

Looking at low forage diets, one thing to remember is that forage is not forage. When we replaced corn silage with corn stalks and flaked corn, we lowered the forage content of the ration, but not necessarily the fiber content. Normal corn silage contains about 35% grain. So when we feed diets with corn silage the actual forage content is lower. A 40 % forage diet with 25 lbs of corn silage, actually contains only 35% forage.

We also fed some different ingredients that performed quite well. Ground corn stalks, wheat straw, wheat hay, citrus pulp, glycerin, and wheat mids were some of the ingredients that performed extremely well. This just goes to prove the point of the flexibility we can have in feeding cows.

So how does this knowledge help us this year, when forages are more abundant and grain prices are sky high? The main point to remember is flexibility. We can feed many different combinations of ingredients and have high production. There are still ingredients out there that you might not have considered that are economical right now.

Another thing to look at, is does it make sense to harvest corn as grain, maybe earlage? Then supplement the harvested stalks with purchased sorghum or wheat hay or burrs. We need to keep an open mind and look at all of the possibilities.

Critical to the success of using a feeding program such as this, is the complete analysis of all feed ingredients. The variability of commodities can make a huge difference in the value and feasibility of different feeds. The fantastic modeling software we have available today, make the flexibility we are striving for possible. But we can’t use book values for our nutrients. We must get accurate analysis to plug into these models.

Another critical factor this year, is the processing of starch, which we will discuss in next week’ blog.