Forage Quality in Today’s Markets

Trent Dado

April 22, 2021

How many times have you seen the words “Bitcoin”, “GameStop”, or “AMC” in the news this year? Likely a lot. These stocks and investments saw crazy price swings and attracted a lot of attention. However, if you were to ask your financial advisor over this time period, I doubt they were encouraging you to spend your life savings in Bitcoin. They likely encouraged you to stay the course, diversify the portfolio, and buy and hold. Price volatility should not cause you to change your overall strategy.

This holds true for how we should approach our forage quality in today’s markets. The large increases and changes in corn, soybean, and other feed prices may have some producers looking to alter their cropping plans. Even with expensive commodities, the basics of forage quality should remain the same. What should change, is the emphasis and energy we put towards achieving high quality forage.

Utilizing quality, home-grown forages is imperative to low-cost lactating rations, especially during time of high commodity prices. This has been demonstrated many times but let us compare two rations with different quality haylage and compare spring 2020 prices to spring 2021 prices (Table 1).

To start, lets compare the ration formulation with the two different haylage qualities. With high quality forages, the percent forage of the ration can reach over 60% of the ration dry matter. As haylage quality drops, to maintain the same level of nutrient available to the cow, we must substitute haylage with more nutrient dense and digestible feedstuff. In this example, we had to decrease haylage and increase the amount of corn gluten feed, canola, and other proteins.

As for cost, because we replaced forage with purchased commodities, the lower quality haylage rations had lower home-grown forage costs and higher purchased feed costs. When we compare ration costs within year, the rations with higher quality haylage are cheaper. However, the difference between low and high quality forage ration costs is much larger in 2021 than 2020. In 2021, the difference between rations was $0.16 per head per day and on $0.01 in 2020. This is because the substitutes that are used to replace lower quality haylage are much more expensive this year. From a cash standpoint, it also favorable to lower purchased feed costs and focus on creating a larger return on your investment in equipment, land, labor and energy by harvesting quality forage.

Do not bet the farm on speculative options to lower feed cost. In 2021, double-down on forage quality. Stick to the foundations, cut on time, chop at the right moisture, chop at the right length, pack hard, and seal tight.

* Haylage 170 RFQ ($95/ton), Haylage 130 RFQ ($70/ton), Corn Silage ($40/ton), Corn Grain ($204/ton), Corn Gluten Feed ($225/ton),

** Haylage 170 RFQ ($90/ton), Haylage 130 RFQ ($65/ton), Corn Silage ($30/ton), Corn Grain ($158/ton), Canola ($273/ton), Corn Gluten Feed ($165/ton), Protein/Mineral Mix ($533/ton)