Dairy producers short on alfalfa are looking for alternative forages that won’t bring down their milk yields, says Frank Wardynski, Michigan State University Extension.

Some harvested winter wheat for silage this spring – best used in dry cow and heifer rations, especially if the crop was at milk or dough stages. “Wheat silage contains more fiber and less protein than alfalfa. Some producers have been including boot-stage wheat silage into high-producing lactation rations without sacrificing milk production in replacement of alfalfa while eliminating fiber sources such as straw from the ration,” he says.

Producers in excessive-rainfall areas with delayed row-crop planting can plant sorghum-sudangrass until about July 15. Brown midrib (BMR) varieties are more comparable to corn silage than alfalfa, Wardynski says.

Or they can consider double-cropping forage plantings behind winter wheat grain harvest this summer. Michigan State University Extension recommendsplanting single species crops for high-producing lactating cows. Oats can be planted and harvested as silage with similar feeding results and recommendations as wheat silage.

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A forage-type soybean is another option. A feed-analysis study indicated that protein and fiber values can be nearly comparable to alfalfa, with protein at 18-20%; NDF, 38-46%; and ADF at 28-34%. Soybeans should be harvested just before the R7 stage, when one pod of the main stem contains mature seeds. But there is a limited list of pesticides approved for use on soybeans to be harvested for livestock feed.

Planting a peas-oats combination can produce high-quality feed. “Due to the potential for crop-stand variability, it is not recommended as a feed for lactating cows. Crop-stand variability can create a challenge to deliver consistent diets to the cows. Peas and oats can be an excellent feed for dry cows and heifers, allowing producers to save alfalfa for lactating cows,” Wardynski adds.

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