Dairy and beef producers are being slammed this year with the high cost of corn, soybean meal and forages.
Finding ways to grow forages economically is a great way to boost feed inventories and lower overall feed costs, says dairy farmer Josh Hiemstra of Brandon, Wis. Hiemstra farms 790 owned and rented acres with his dad, Bob, in western Fond du Lac County. The Hiemstras milk 185 Holstein cows and raise 150 heifers and calves.
Josh Hiemstra, 44, began growing cover crops 14 years ago as a way to boost soil health and to provide additional feed for their dairy cattle. After harvesting corn silage last fall, he seeded 60 acres of ryelage and triticale mixed.
Fran O'LearyFATHER AND SON: Bob and Josh Hiemstra farm 790 acres and milk 185 Holstein cows on their Fond du Lac County, Wis., farm. They began growing cover crops on their farm in 2007.
“I’m trying to get the best of both worlds,” he says. “The triticale matures a little later than the ryelage. I planted 60 pounds of each to the acre. If you are going to seed rye and triticale for feed, you need to seed them heavier.”
While some farmers like to apply urea on their rye or triticale to boost tonnage, Hiemstra applied 7,000 gallons of liquid manure per acre last fall after seeding the crop.
“Rye is very tolerant of manure applications,” he says. “I planted the rye and then spread manure. Silage came off, we no-tilled the rye and then it came up.”
He plans to chop the rye and triticale mix for feed for their heifers when it is ready in middle to late May.
“Then I’m going to double-crop those 60 acres with canning peas,” Hiemstra says. “I had soybeans on it last year and put the rye and triticale in during the fall. Then after I chop the ryelage and triticale in May, we’re going to put canning peas in. They will be harvested in July and then we’ll fall seed alfalfa in August. So, I’m going to get four crops off those 60 acres in two years. I won’t harvest the alfalfa this fall, but it will be ready to go next spring.”
Hiemstra says they plan to feed the ryelage and triticale to their heifers.
“We try to avoid feeding our heifers the good haylage, we need that for the cows,” he says. “But we have fed triticale and ryelage to the cows in the past. It makes great feed.”
The Hiemstras’ cows average 80 pounds of milk per cow per day.
“We milk twice a day with a 4.3% fat and a 3.1% protein,” he says. “We’re shooting for 6 pounds of total solids or 100 pounds of energy corrected milk per cow, per day.”
Hiemstra figures it costs him about $55 an acre to seed 60 pounds of triticale and 60 pounds of rye.
“It’s a very economical feed. At three tons to the acre, that works out to less than $20 per ton plus harvest costs,” Hiemstra says. “That’s pretty cheap.”
In addition to growing cover crops for feed, Hiemstra says he seeded rye on all their soybean and corn ground last fall. “I seeded it at 40 pounds per acre.”
“Rye is the hardiest cover crop to seed in the fall,” he says. “You can even seed it in December and it will germinate. I’ve put it in as late as Nov. 1. It just depends on how desperate you are — it will grow. You can plant it in spring and it will not go to seed. It makes great feed. It’s a little more economical to plant than triticale, but the feed value isn’t as high.”
Jerry Clark, Chippewa County Extension crops and soils agent, agrees with what the Hiemstras are doing with cover crops on their farm.
“The whole cover crop push is to keep something living on the land,” Clark says. “Rye and triticale are great to plant in the fall and then harvest for feed in May.”
Clark says in August, farmers can plant oats and radish for feed this fall.
You can chop it or make baleage,” Clark explains. “It’s a great late-season forage that can be chopped. It’s okay to plant oats following wheat because you are not harvesting the oats as a grain.”
Dairy and livestock producers can also seed alfalfa in August for the following spring.
“It gives you options,” Clark says. “You can plant rye and triticale in September or early October and harvest some forage in the spring.”
Clark says it helps dairy and beef producers get extra forage off before they plant corn silage the end of May. Annual ryegrass and meadow fescue are other options.
Clark says the goal is to optimize forages and tonnage. “Getting as much tonnage per acre as possible is key,” he says. “The hay price is going to be high this year with farmers planting more corn and soybeans and less hay.”