The cold winds have yet to blow and snow has yet to fall and drift, but livestock producers across Indiana are wondering how they will get through the winter of '07-'08 without giving up part of their herds or going broke trying to feed them. The devastating spring freeze and equally damaging hot, dry summer over parts of the state has left nearly every livestock producer, including those who raise a horse or two, scrambling for enough feed to get through the winter.
The LaGrange County Soil and Water Conservation District sponsored an emergency forage tour on October 9, still in the heart of harvest. Yet according to Jennie Holcomb of the LaGrange SWCD, 85 people, including a few staff personnel but also including many farmers, took time to attend the day-long field day and bus tour.
The tour started in Steuben County, at Bob Eash' rotational-grazing dairy farm, where he showed them a field planted to brown mid-rib sorghum sudangrass. The brown mid-rib trait confers better digestibility to animals. He also discussed his plans for how he would use forage to supplement feed for his 200 head of dairy heifers.
While it's too late to plant brown mid-rib sorghum sudangrass to help you out of a jam this fall, it's not too late to do what Jerry Perkins demonstrated for the tour group that day. Perkins is a grazing specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation service in northeast Indiana.
Using a forage probe, he demonstrated how to probe into bales of forage, even those covered with plastic. The idea, of course, is to determine nutrient content so that you will know how the forage available to your animals should be supplemented for best performance. Since much of the forage available on many farms is either going to be grass hay mixed with weeds- hay that might have been let stand in other years- or cornstalks, he feels it's important to gain some knowledge of the nutrient content of that low-quality forage. Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible to tell how to properly supplement it so that cows still perform reasonably well. Several commercial labs, including the A & L Great Lakes Lab in Fort Wayne, can test forage samples for nutrient content.
The field day also included a pasture walk at Marvin Kauffman's farm in Elkhart County. A dedicated rotational grazer, he plants alfalfa, triticale, forage peas, ryegrass, clover, chicory, turnips and oats to attempt to stretch his forage supply out as far as possible.
Pasture walks are held regularly during the summer in LaGrange County on the second Tuesday of every month through November. That allows farmers who graze to compare notes and learn from each other.
You can reach the LaGrange County SWCD for information or to be placed on their pasture newsletter by contacting 260-463-3471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.