It makes TMRs more palatable Lee Van Kleeck is sold on greenchop as a component of total mixed rations (TMRs).
"I love it," says Van Kleeck, a veterinarian and nutritionist from Wendell, ID. "No. 1, if you're close to the field that you're greenchopping, it's extremely cost-effective. No. 2, it's something cows like to eat, so it impacts the palatability of the TMR. Plus it's got enough moisture in it to settle the dust and make the fines stick together."
Van Kleeck likes to formulate rations with large amounts of greenchop. But the amount varies, depending on each client's situation. In some cases, he limits greenchop to a few pounds per cow per day in order to hold down the TMR's moisture content.
"Remember, if the water content of the TMR exceeds about 60%, it takes too many hours for cows to get enough pounds of dry matter into them," he says. "And you run the risk of increased incidence of displaced abomasums."
Some producers are able to feed substantially more because they let the forage field-dry before chopping.
"They let it wilt overnight," says Van Kleeck. "It goes from 80% moisture to 60-65%, which is perfect."
Maintaining a summer-long supply of high-quality alfalfa or grass can be challenging. "But we're learning how to deal with it," he says. "We're starting to get a better handle on how many acres we need."
About a third of his southern Idaho clients, including Pete Deelstra, mix greenchop into their TMRs.
"It helps production, especially in hot weather," says Deelstra.
He greenchops from May through October or November, normally taking seven or eight cuttings from 106 acres of irrigated grass. His 1,100 cows, averaging 21,500 lbs of milk, get between 20 and 70 lbs of fresh-cut grass per cow per day, depending on grass growth and other factors.
"In May of this year, I was chopping seven loads a day and still couldn't keep up with it," he says.
He has experimented with several ryegrass varieties and has concluded that BG 34, a Dutch variety, works best for him. Currently, he has 25 acres of Italian ryegrass and the rest is a ryegrass-Matua bromegrass mixture. Matua, a warm-season grass, grows fast in hot weather, and cool-season ryegrass dominates the stand in spring and fall.
Deelstra also has grown triticale, a crop that Van Kleeck sees as having great potential for greenchopping.
"Triticale is a wonderful forage if you can manage it," says Van Kleeck. "It grows doggone fast. If it gets to the beard stage, you might as well thresh it. But if you cut it at flag stage, it's super feed."
Deelstra believes grasses beat alfalfa for greenchopping.
"I think I get more yield with grass, plus my growing season is four to six weeks longer," he says. "Cool-season grasses start a lot earlier than alfalfa and grow a lot longer in fall. This year we'll get at least 8 11/42 and maybe 9 to 9 11/42 tons of dry matter per acre."
He adds: "Most of the time my relative feed values are around 195 to 200. I don't think you'll get that kind of quality with alfalfa."
Steve Whitesides agrees with Deelstra that greenchop does boost milk production, especially in hot weather. It helps maintain dry matter intake under those conditions, says Whitesides, of Rupert, ID.
"When it's hot I need to be feeding the best feed I can," he says.
With his brother Brent, Whitesides runs a 1,500-cow dairy, currently averaging 26,300 lbs of milk. They feed greenchopped alfalfa from May to September, in rations anchored by bagged corn silage and haylage. They chop 24 hours after cutting, using a flail chopper.
Preventing standing alfalfa from getting too mature can be tricky, says Whitesides. He plays it safe by starting each field when the crop is immature, and quitting at bud stage.
"When the field is ready to cut for baling, I pull out and go to the next one," he says.
Ration balancing can be tricky, too, especially as it relates to moisture content. Whitesides dries a sample in a microwave oven every day, then programs the dry matter content into the feeding program.
Like Van Kleeck and Deelstra, Whitesides likes the benefits of greenchopping.
"We get a milk production response, and I think the cows are healthier," he says. "We bounce from 85 to 87 lbs/cow/day, and our goal is 90 lbs. I think we can get there with greenchop."