Helping cows stay healthy is goal No. 1 at the Lardinois dairy near Pulaski, WI. Feeding more grass and less alfalfa in the dairy's total mixed ration is keeping it on track in meeting that goal.

“We were seeing more ketosis, DAs and lameness than we wanted to see,” says Randy Lardinois, who teams with brothers Alan and Russ in this family dairying partnership. “We wanted a better feed for the cows.”

Toward that end, the Lardinoises seeded 18 lbs/acre of straight tall fescue on about 50 acres in the spring of 2007. Last year they opted to seed another 100+ acres to a grass-alfalfa mix. The seeding rate was 15 lbs/acre of grass and 5 lbs/acre of alfalfa.

“The straight tall fescue was very good feed,” says Randy's son, Marc, who shares feeding duties at the dairy along with his cousin, Brook. “But if you're putting it in a pile or a bunker, it can be hard to pack. It pops right up. You want to make sure it's not the last feed going into the pile and that you have some other feed on top of it. Going with the alfalfa-grass mix eliminates the problem. It packs just like alfalfa haylage.”

Since making the move to more grass, the Lardinoises have seen milk production bump up steadily. Currently, the 535 cows in the milking herd are averaging nearly 25,000 lbs of milk/day on 3X milking. They've also seen a decrease in lameness and other health problems.

Randy Lardinois is reluctant to attribute all the improvement directly to the switchover to grass. “We did make some changes in our dry cow ration, incorporating wheat straw, and that helped improve production for our fresh cows. But the grass has definitely played a part.”

Bill Matzke, the Lardinoises' nutritionist, notes that because of the relatively high neutral detergent fiber (NDF) level in the grass, the relative feed value often drops below 130. But the grass's NDF digestibility has been excellent, averaging 65% (with a range of 52-80%) in 30-hour in vitro testing by Dairyland Laboratories. The grass, Matzke notes, also lends itself to harvesting at longer particle lengths, which can improve levels of physically effective fiber in the diet.

Matzke says the grass and grass-alfalfa mix are also “very palatable” feeds. “They've baled it as dry hay, and compared to pure alfalfa, it's very soft,” he says.

Grass is typically lower in crude protein than alfalfa. Lardinois says his grass tests around 17% compared to 21-22% for alfalfa.

“We still feed some alfalfa at Lardinois Farms, but the grass and alfalfa really seem to complement each other,” Matzke notes. “The grass gives us more effective fiber and good digestibility, and the cows have responded well.”

Randy Lardinois reports that grass yields have been satisfactory even with dry summers the past two years. And, he says, there are other agronomic advantages to planting more grass as well. Topping the list is being able to make better use of liquid manure generated by the herd.

“The grass can take more of it than straight alfalfa,” says Lardinois. “Also, with the grass we shouldn't have to spray for bugs as much as we did with alfalfa. And we won't have to worry about winterkill. That hasn't been a big problem (with alfalfa) the last few years, but it's something you're always concerned about.”