The lack of an adequate supply of forage is leading Michigan producers and their nutritionists to work hard to maintain consistent diets for dairy cattle, says Stan Moore, Michigan State University Extension dairy educator for Antrium County.

The 2011 and 2012 droughts are still affecting feed inventories for dairy producers in Moore’s region, he says.

“Many producers I work with have found themselves in a cycle of running out of haylage, going to a high corn silage ration, and then running out of corn silage, only to start the cycle over again with a high haylage diet.”

He suggests that producers continually plan and manage their feed inventories, referencing an article he wrote on the subject in 2011.

“Once they begin feeding 2013 corn silage, producers should begin to track actual feed disappearance and compare that to the rations being fed on the farm. These early and regular check-ups will allow ration changes to ensure that we feed a more-consistent ration while also maintaining an adequate supply to last us two to four months past the next harvest.”

Measuring disappearance, or how much feed is used up, can be done in bunkers, bags and silos. On covered bunkers and bags, producers can measure the length of the storage unit monthly to determine forage usage. With silos, they should count doors in a silo and look at capacity charts that take moisture into effect to calculate forage usage, Moore says.

“All this seems simplistic, but often producers are caught up in day-to-day operations and forget to do this simple check. If we do these monthly checks and make small adjustments to our rations, we can build toward a two- to four-month extra supply recommended by Michigan State University Extension to ensure proper ensiling of next year’s forages.

“We will also avoid having to make drastic changes our rations when we run out of forages. No doubt, it may take more than one year’s harvest to get back to having an adequate surplus, but the path to more consistent rations begins with good feed inventory assessments, planning and management,” he says.

Work to reduce corn silage shrink from an average 25% to 15%, Moore adds. That will save a 100-cow dairy $3,280 (at $60/ton corn silage). MSU Extension Dairy Team offers its “Shrink Your Feed Shrink” programs, to be held in four locations in late January. Sites include January 21 at West Olive; Jan. 22 at the MSU Pavilion; Jan. 23 at Bad Axe; and Jan. 28 at West Branch. For more information or registration, please contact Faith Cullens at 989-224-5249 or cullensf@msu.edu.