Overcoming forage shortages in drought-stressed areas of Michigan

Limited winter hay supplies requires resourceful feeding alternatives.

Michigan drought monitor on September 28, 2017.
Michigan drought monitor on September 28, 2017.

The 2017 growing season in Michigan may go down as one of the oddest on record. Tremendous variations in crop maturity, yields and harvest challenges exist across the state. The Upper Peninsula has received surplus moisture for most of the summer. In contrast, central and south-western Lower Peninsula areas are in moderate drought receiving rain amounts of less than three inches from May through September.

For those beef and dairy producers with forage inventory challenges, it’s time to get creative with rations. Corn silage harvest is complete in central-Michigan but other grain residues are still available. As soybean and corn grain harvest gears-up, producers should be looking at forage options from those two crops. In general, we can expect 1-1.5 tons of soybean residue per acre and more than 2 tons of corn stover residue per acre with normal grain yields.

Planning is critical for harvest success. As fall rains arrive, the window of opportunity to haves crop residues begins to close. For those farms that are not harvesting grain, you should be contacting local farms in your immediate area about purchasing their crop residues. Prices for harvested stover will generally range from $50-75/ton of dry matter. Properly supplemented rations for beef and some classes of dairy cattle and sheep can economically utilize these residues as alternative forages.

Other considerations including nitrate toxicity in drought stressed forage, should be considered. If you have questions about nitrate risk, samples should be sent to a laboratory to ensure levels will not affect livestock health. Laboratory analysis of forage is also recommended to match feed resources to livestock production needs. Michigan State University Extension has many resources listed below to help guide the planning process for harvesting and feeding livestock this fall and winter.

Here are some key links for corn harvest and residue value information:

Michigan laboratories for nitrate or nutrient analysis:

For additional cattle management resources, visit the Michigan State University Beef Team website.

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