Even during the challenging hurricane season, Bob and Sam Morgan put up quality grass silage for the 8,000-cow dairy they contract with in the tropical part of Florida.
They do that by harvesting and storing the forage quite a bit below the 30-35% dry matter (DM) standard. Most times, it’s harvested at less than 25% DM.
“Harvesting at a lower percentage DM is done out of necessity and is ideal considering the situation we face over the summer months,” says Bob. “Everyone loses when you aren’t willing to adapt to the situation.”
The brothers operate Morgan Forage Harvesting. They used to custom harvest from their Rexford, KS, home base to Florida. But, five years ago, Bob moved his family near McArthur Farms, the Okeechobee, FL, dairy that now takes up the bulk of their custom work schedule.
They’ve learned, over time, how to contend with Florida’s considerable precipitation that falls during the June-through-November hurricane season.
Waiting out rain isn’t an option. Various bermudagrasses and Hermarthria grow on the farm and thrive in Florida’s climate. Letting the grasses become too mature results in a high volume of low-quality feed. “Any amount of bad feed harvested replaces good feed that could be in a ration,” says Bob. “You can never make enough good feed.”
They used to chop immediately following swathing to mimic direct cutting. “Once forages are on the ground and have been rained on in this climate, the quality diminishes quickly,” says Sam.
But now the Morgans have developed a direct-cut header for a self-propelled chopper that has made their grass harvest more efficient, they say.
“A direct-cut header is a necessity in wet conditions,” Sam adds. “The idea not only minimizes the risk of valuable crops being damaged by rain, it saves valuable time.”
This year, they’re actively working to get their third version of the header on the market.
Several manufacturers offer direct-cut headers for their choppers, Sam admits. “However, they all share some common drawbacks.” The largest is high-horsepower consumption, he believes.
Direct-cut headers typically feature disc cutters in front of a converging auger that moves forage into the harvester’s feeder house.
“It takes a great deal of horsepower to cut and process the forage with one machine,” says Sam. “Making the feeding of the crop into the harvester more consistent will lower the horsepower usage and ease torque on the gearboxes.” No adaptations are required to the chopper in order to attach the Morgans’ header.
“Our latest header will be in the field this year and should address some of the issues that we see with heads already on the market,” he says.
Crop is stored in 12 x 500’ silage bags as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of oxygen the grass comes in contact with.
“Bags have been the ideal storage medium for us because we can harvest at a higher moisture without great amounts of spoilage,” says Bob.
Silage inoculant is applied at 30% above recommended levels. “Dairy cows produce based on consistency; they don’t thrive on variety. If you can’t make the product perfect, you can at least make it consistent,” he adds.
“We normally don’t see health issues while feeding the wetter silage,” says John Gilliland, dairy operations manager at McArthur Farms. “Clostridium and ketosis issues occur if the butyric acid levels are too high because of improper storage.” The grass silage is fed out of the bags at 16% protein.