May 13, 2012

Farmers gearing up for busy spring


After packing, the plastic excludes the oxygen and the old tires keep the plastic from blowing away in the wind. As the silage cures, it takes on a pungent, vinegary smell that cows love. It can then be fed with a loader and mixer wagon and used for total mixed rations — a crucial part of most dairy farms' feeding program.

Silage has become the primary storage option for grass forage for dairy cattle, due to advances in harvesting technology, silo types, plastic covers and mechanization for feeding.

With early and quicker harvesting comes an increase in feed value. As plants grow and mature, there is a fine line between quality and quantity. Many years of plant breeding and selection have been dedicated to develop forage varieties that will provide the best of both worlds.

A dairy cows needs top-quality forage to reach high levels of milk production. Because the cost of corn and soybeans is at record high levels, farmers would much rather feed home-grown forage. The more protein and energy that can be grown on the farm, the more dollars the farmer may be able to put in the bank.

Since our North Country growing season is short, dairy farmers depend on these stored feeds to maintain consistent milk production. By timely harvesting and proper ensiling of forages, cows can be fed a consistent diet year round. And while today's cows are less often pastured outside, the forages that are ensiled and fed inside are often more palatable and of higher quality than could be obtained in the more traditional grazing scenario.

The good old days of summer pasture usually ended up providing forage of low quality, low quantity and resulted in low milk production. In today's modern dairy farming, the high-quality stored forages result in ever better diets and increasing milk production.

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