September 25, 2012
Summer is moving rapidly. We got a few showers of rain the last few weeks. Not enough to end the drought, but a least enough to bring a little green to the grass. Most of my clients are attempting to gather as much winter feed as possible.
Nitrates are a real issue in the corn crop this year. We have seen some losses in cowherds grazing unharvested corn. Several producers have lost one or two cows that preferred to be out of the pasture and graze the corn. Let's just say, "They won't do that again." We also had an incident of a producer turning forty cows into standing corn. By the end of the day he only had twenty cows left. Be careful.
As corn matures the nitrate levels decrease. It is important to not be in a hurry to harvest drought damaged corn. A lot of the early silage harvested was high in moisture. Many of the samples we sent into labs were 80-85 percent moisture. This won't pack very well and may not heat properly. Usually the pile just runs. Without proper fermenting the nitrate levels won't decline. We have sent a lot of samples to the lab for nitrate levels and some are ten times above safe levels. The properly packed silage pile is the only good method of lowering nitrates, but it requires 2-3 weeks to occur. We sampled some silage which was above 500 parts per million from the field. Two weeks later we tested the pile and found they top of the pile to still be over 400 parts per million, but a deep sample in the center of the pile was about 100 parts per million, a real improvement.
Baling has not been as effective in lowering nitrates. One of the major problems is getting the forage to dry. Silage is generally piled at 65-70 percent moisture. If too wet, the bales will spoil and loose whatever feed value is present. Fermentation doesn't occur as readily in the bale because it is not wrapped tightly enough to prevent air from entering. Without fermentation the nitrate levels do not decrease substantially.
A lot of CRP is being baled in our area. There is a lot of trash on top but there is some green forage low on the plants. Some producers complain that there is little feed value in CRP hay. Be sure to test the feed value of the hay before you make it the base of your feeding program.
Be sure to test all feedstuffs for nitrates. If your corn silage, for example, is high, you can calculate dilutions with other feedstuffs to lower your total nitrates.
While many producers are contemplating marketing their cows because of high feed costs and inadequate roughage stock piles. Others are gathering low quality feedstuffs and planning a supplemental program to enable them to maintain their herd. Accurate sampling and careful construction of rations will enable you to properly nourish your cattle during these tough conditions. Visit with your nutritionalist, veterinarian or extension specialist to formulate rations and management programs which are specific for your feeds and management practices. Careful preparation and attention to detail will allow you to profitably maintain your cows through the winter.