Terry Mergen doesn't use a magic potion on his forages. But something is mystical about his ability to harvest high-quality silage and hay. They're so high in quality, in fact, that he sometimes adds corncobs to his dairy ration to bump up the fiber.
“Nutritionists have trouble balancing my ration,” says Mergen, of Bloomington, WI. “They say I've got tremendously good feed, but I have to mix it with something.”
His 80-cow herd, averaging 24,300 lbs of milk, gets lots of high-quality haylage, bale silage and corn silage. Mergen aims to harvest haylage and bale silage in the 210-220 relative feed value (RFV) range. But last year some came in with RFVs above 230.
“That's too high,” says Mergen.
Too high for optimal feeding, but not to capture the championship in the 2001 World's Forage Analysis Superbowl. Mergen, in fact, placed high in all four categories he entered. He won the contest with a bale silage sample and also placed second in the dairy haylage category, third in dairy hay and 20th in corn silage.
The bale silage that earned Mergen the World's Champion Forage Producer title tested 25.7% crude protein with a 233 RFV score. It was from the third cutting of Partner, a Crow's Hybrids variety.
His dairy haylage entry had an even higher RFV — 238 — testing 25.6% crude protein. After visual and other evaluations, it placed second in that category.
How is he able to make so much high-quality forage appear?
“The key is timely cutting — every 27 or 28 days,” Mergen answers. “Anything longer than that and you lose relative feed value fast.”
His switch from dry hay to bale silage a few years ago also has helped. It lets him get the crop off the field faster, enabling him to take five cuttings a year instead of four.
“If you're trying to make dry hay, you just can't do it.”
He makes 500 3 × 3 × 8' bales of silage and 250-300 tons of haylage a year, plus he has 45 acres of silage corn. And he still makes a few bales of first-cutting dry hay for his heifers and dry cows. A sample from one of those bales placed third in this year's dairy hay category, testing 26.5% crude protein with an RFV of 196.
Mergen's winning bale silage sample was slightly better than one entered by Joshua Kamps, Darlington, WI. When Mergen became the overall winner, Kamps was named winner of that category. Two entries by Mark Steffensmeier, also of Bloomington, WI, placed second and third.
Horning Farms, Manchester, MI, won the dairy hay category. Wayne Harris, Lister, British Columbia, placed second and Mergen, third.
The dairy haylage winner was Mark Wright, Watertown, WI, followed by Mergen and McClellan Farms, Delavan, WI.
Larson Magic Farms, Buhl, ID, placed first in commercial hay. Joshua Kamps was runner-up and Kamps' parents, Dan and Ruth, came in third.
The best corn silage sample was entered by Gilbertson Farms, Elk Mound, WI. Alger Dairy Farm, Mantua, OH, placed second, and Bomaz, a dairy farm owned by Bob and Greg Zwald, Hammond, WI, finished third.
Top first-time entrant was Larry Muck, Meadville, OH.
The annual superbowl is sponsored by Hay & Forage Grower, AgSource Cooperative Services/CRI, DairyBusiness Communications, World Dairy Expo and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The 2001 contest had 230 entries from 20 states and two Canadian provinces.