Effects of 2012 drought on feeding dairy animals

Due to the unique situations in Michigan, there is no easy answer on how dairy producers should handle the challenges presented by the drought of 2012.

The summer of 2012 provided challenging growing conditions for crops in the Midwest. Many producers are faced with a different feed situation than normal. The amount of variability in quality and yield of forages harvested across the state of Michigan is tremendous.

For many Michigan producers, there was a shortage of hay harvested while others were able to take extra hay cuttings resulting in a normal or above normal yields. Likewise, corn silage yield was inconsistent throughout the state. Many producers made the decision to chop corn for silage to meet forage needs instead of harvesting it as shell corn as planned at planting time.

Other effects of the drought were exhibited by a large variation in quality of corn silage. Depending on when the rain came, and how much rain, there is silage with no corn grain and there is very ‘hot’ corn silage with upwards of 45 percent starch from plants that did not grow very tall, but were able to produce normal grain yields.

Producers who are short on forages need to save the very best forages for lactating cows and should look to alternative forage sources such as corn stalks or soybean stubble for heifers. Making a change in the forage to concentrate ration early and replacing a small amount of forage with a digestible fiber by-product, such as soy hulls, can save a lot of forage over time.

Additionally, review what the animals’ needs truly are to ensure that valuable nutrients are not being overfed. If utilizing a byproduct feed, ensure that there is consistency in nutrients and quality so that cow production and health are not detrimentally affected.

With high feed prices, it is also a good time to review on-farm practices to reduce shrink of both grains and forages. Grains should be stored in a bin or under a roof to prevent losses to the environment and to keep from getting wet. Forage piles need to be tightly covered to prevent spoilage and losses to the environment. During feed out, ensure that only feed being used that day is knocked down. To minimize spoilage, a defacer is helpful to keep air from penetrating deep into the pile.

The drought situation has left many producers short on forages and/or grains, both of which have a high cost now. Because of the unique situations in Michigan, there is no easy answer on how dairy producers should handle the challenges presented by the drought of 2012. Utilizing advanced planning and following best management feeding practices will help save money and keep animals healthy every year, but particularly in a year like this.

To learn more about the challenges brought on by the drought of 2012, plan to attend Michigan State University Extension’s Growing Michigan Ag Conference, held at the Lansing Center on Jan. 24.

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