Managing haylage variation in rations (Part one) – Jon Rasmussen, Vita Plus

Posted on July 25, 2017 in Forage Foundations
By Jon Rasmussen, Vita Plus dairy technology specialist
When it comes to dairy cow diets today, we mostly discuss higher corn silage or byproduct diets and not high-haylage diets.  One of the reasons for this shift has been challenges with variation in haylage quality.  Minimizing this variation is key if you are considering additional haylage in a diet or looking to take full advantage of all the knowledge gained in balancing diets for amino acids, fiber digestibility, and starch utilization.

The first key in any diet is addressing the variation.  Since haylage is a variable forage to feed, we must plan to control the variation the best we can.  This starts with reducing the variation of the growing crop.  Some variation in mature stands will be present, but you need to decide how much you will tolerate before you change harvest plans or crop rotations.

After evaluating the growing crop, the next opportunity is to minimize dry matter (DM) variation during the harvest process.  This means adapting to how the weather allows the cut crop to dry.  Successfully implementing wide-swath cutting can improve DM consistency.  It is also important to develop a plan to determine DM content of the cut hay prior to merging.  We have seen farms check the DM content with Koster testers to successfully determine when the merging process should start.  This allows the hay to reach an ideal DM before it’s merged into a large windrow, where the drying process slows.

Another way to control the consistency is how the haylage is ensiled.  Can we spread thin layers in the bunker or pile to minimize DM changes, or are we running each load into a bag or upright silo, where the DM will vary from each specific load at feedout?

The harvesting and ensiling scenarios will help determine sampling frequency and how we average samples.  Averaging the nutrient profiles on the samples from a bunker or pile will help develop the ration.  In a bag or upright silo, we will have to determine if or how we average the nutrients.  If the quality of the bagged haylage changes a lot as we feed it, we may not want to average samples.

We can, however, look ahead to the potential changes and what samples are needed by marking the bags or adding markers within the crop inside a silo to indicate a crop or field change.  In the event of subtle changes in the stored crop, we can use the nutrient composition to develop a plan to check DM and ensure consistent feeding.  Again, in the overall scheme, checking for DM changes in all the scenarios will be the biggest key to success.

With haylage crops that have significant DM changes, getting the next day’s feed checked for DM before feeding will help keep a consistent diet.  If you desire to check DM overnight, you may want to consider a food dehydrator in your management program as they can run overnight without overcooking a sample.

The more effective we are at minimizing the nutrient and fermentation variation of the haylage fed, the more effectively we will balance the diet.  Fine-tuning the fiber digestion, amino acid contributions and starch utilization will depend greatly on a consistent haylage supply.

Category: Feed quality and nutrition
Forage Foundations
Forage harvesting
Forage storage and management