Each year, someone somewhere ends the growing season short on forage.
It’s dry in much of New England, New York, western Pennsylvania and Ohio. One area gets dumped on while the other area goes begging for water.
This has affected second cutting — and in some areas first cutting — this season. Hay crop yields are reportedly down 30% to 40% in some areas.
The extended days of temperatures above 85 degrees F can decrease corn silage yields as corn will stop growing. Add to that the dry weather and the potential is there for corn yields to be down significantly this season.
If you think you’ll be short on forage, you need to identify how much feed you need and what will supply that. The good news is that there are still a few options open for last-chance forage.
For areas south of New York, you can still get a one-cut sorghum Sudan harvest.
There is little highly digestible brown midrib (BMR) type available at this point but there is a supply of non-BMR available, and this is one of the best low-cost options for raising replacement animals.
I wouldn’t try any sorghum of any type right now in New York or New England. There isn’t enough growing season left. Adding insult to injury, our preliminary research shows that as we go into September in the Albany area, the sorghum species significantly reduce digestibility due to decreasing light intensity and day length (photosynthetic potential).
But if you’re looking for a high-quality dairy forage, no mechanically harvested crop will produce as much and with as high a quality as late-summer spring oats.
Because of the cool fall nights, forage quality tends be very high (higher than forage oats in the spring). For more northern areas, planting right now is possible. For the Albany area, Aug. 10 is a good time to plant. Areas further south can wait longer for the cool nights of August to reduce the aphid population that can bring in barley yellow dwarf virus.
HAY SHORTAGE: In some areas, hay yields are down 30% to 40% this season because of the hot, dry weather. If you think you’ll be short on forage, there are options available for last-chance forage, but make your plans now so you have enough growing season left.
Aphids can infect the plant with this virus in less than 30 minutes. If you are planting early or on time, it is strongly suggested to use a neonicotinoid seed treatment as they are effective in limiting aphid feeding, at least based on research by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management coordinator. Here are other tips to get a good oat crop growing:
Watch for rust. A moist fall can hammer this plan with a major outbreak of rust. Scouts report leaving the field so covered in rust spores that they were mistaken for orange highway cones. It could reduce quality and yield.
Normally, rust starts to show a week or so before harvest. If scouting finds it, a highly suggested practice is to apply a fungicide to the oats when they are starting stem elongation. If you have a cereal leaf beetle outbreak an insecticide can be applied at the same time as the fungicide.
Plant conservatively. We suggest 3 bushels an acre of grain-type oats. My research has found no yield increase from increased fall oat seeding rate.
Grain oats will go through its life cycle quicker, so be ready at the end of September when you still have some heat to dry it for silage. If you are not going to be able to plant until later or must harvest or graze it later, then the slower forage oat type would be better, based on research out of Ohio.
Incorporate your manure. Be liberal with your preplant manure application and immediately incorporate it to capture the ammonia nitrogen.
In a 2010 study, we had a relatively low yield of 2 tons dry matter per acre due to extremely dry weather. Despite the low yields, we removed over 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre as protein. Just note that if you applied manure, don’t feed this to dry cows because of high potassium.
Mow at flag leaf. For high-producing dairy cows, mow as soon as the flag leaf is out, or at early boot.
Even early boot is still very good forage. The reason for this is because very cool night temperatures inhibit respiration of the most digestible parts, and they accumulate in the plant. As soon as it hits flag leaf, mow wide swath.
You are trying to dry something that can yield two to three times more tons of dry matter than a heavy alfalfa first cutting, compounded by cooler temperatures, and much less intensity and hours of sunlight. Even with wide swath, the high yield mass will allow only the top to dry.
As soon as the top has a light grey cast, pick up a surface plant and see if it is greener underneath. Then do some tedding to get the lower layers spread out and drying. Watch forward speed so you don’t make tedder lumps.
Ensile the same day. It is critical that it be ensiled the same day you mow because of the very high sugar levels. The only exception is if temperatures drop into the 30s at night; it stops respiration and sugar loss, and you can go to the next day.
Leaving it overnight in warmer temperatures burns off the sugars and produces higher populations of Clostridia, and higher levels of butyric acid. With same-day haylage, these are reduced or eliminated even at higher moisture conditions.
On the flip side, the very high sugar levels, if preserved, will produce an excellent fermented forage if inoculated.
Spring oats, plus winter triticale. This is a triple crop system where we planted oats and winter triticale — 100 pounds of oats per acre with 80 pounds of triticale per acre — at the beginning of August. After the oat harvest the triticale continued to grow and produced an excellent forage the next year.
It’s critical, though, that you mow the oats with the cutter bar set at a minimum of 4 inches. Where we did, the triticale thrived; where we mowed less than 3.5 inches, the triticale died.
Target flag leaf oat harvest to maximize triticale fall regrowth. We fertilized the triticale as normal the next spring and had an excellent harvest. This can give you two very high-quality forage crops in one planting.
Cool-season grasses. If it rains, cool-season grasses put on a burst of growth in late August, September and early October.
Feeding the crop with nitrogen and sulfur can give you some real high-quality forage. It will be wet so chop it three-quarters to 1-inch long to reduce leachate. As with oats, use a homolactic inoculant and ensile it the same day. Remember to cut grass at 4-inch cutting height to maintain the stand.
Get winter forage seed. Right now is the time to get seed for winter forage. This will be the earliest, highest-quality forage you can get into your cows next spring. Fermented energy levels are equal to corn silage; protein (with sulfur fertilization) can equal good alfalfa. Both rye and winter triticale can produce winter forage, though winter triticale is preferred as it is 35% higher yielding than rye.
Flag leaf triticale resists lodging at nitrogen rates over 100 pounds an acre, which gives high crude protein, while rye lodges.
The key, though, is planting on time. That is, 10 days to two weeks before wheat for grain planting date in your area.
Earlier planting means more tillers, which means more spring yield potential. Research has shown a 25% to 35% yield increase next spring when planted on time vs. a later planting.
Kilcer is a certified crop adviser in Kinderhook, N.Y.