Having most of your year's feed supply locked up by early summer is the best kind of drought insurance, says Calvin Paulson.

The Port Republic, VA, dairyman ensiles boot-stage rye, barley and wheat ahead of no-till corn to supplement his alfalfa haylage. His Holsteins have ample feed, even if the summer turns dry.

Small-grain silage is economical, too. Paulson's accountant tells him his milk production costs are among the lowest in the Shenandoah Valley.

To be sure he'll have enough forage, Paulson fall-seeds more acres to small grains than he thinks he'll need. Rye gets major emphasis. But with seed of his favorite variety, WinterKing, in short supply in the fall of 1996, he also seeded barley and wheat.

By mid-May last spring, he was glad he did. The 84 acres of rye had already gone into his concrete stave silo with an inoculant. Ten acres of boot-stage barley were next, followed by 35 acres of boot-stage wheat, both also with inoculants. The forages were ensiled at 55- 60% moisture, and the inoculants were applied at the blower.

That left extra wheat that was round-baled and wrapped for heifer feed. Bales were double- wrapped at 45-50% moisture, with an inoculant applied at the baler.

"Getting the cereals off early lets us no-till full-season corn for silage and grain," Paulson reports. "The snapper head goes on as soon as we finish cutting for silage, so our high- moisture ear corn is fairly high in moisture. But it works well and frees up the land for seeding back to cereals."

As it turned out, the shortage of rye seed was an advantage. The rye, barley and wheat were ready in succession, not all the same day, which evened out Paulson's work load. For him, inoculants are a switch from cold-flow ammonia.

"I still use the ammonia on all the corn silage, but we like the results we're getting with inoculants on the cereals."

He also has used anhydrous ammonia on alfalfa baled a little too wet to store as hay. It worked well, but wrapping the crop as round bale haylage gets it out of the field at least a day sooner, he says.