Feed planning and management, more critical this year than in the past

Hay and forage production planning will be critical in 2012 as weather conditions are pushing total potential production levels lower, which will impact overall profitability on your farm.

Much of Michigan’s Thumb region has completed the second cutting of their hay harvest, which for many will serve as a notice that 2012’s production will fall short of 2011’s hay/haylage harvest. Farms with livestock enterprises are under a great deal of pressure to closely monitor and manage their feed and forage production to have a reasonable inventory.

Overall, the hay inventory carry-over from 2011 is lower than normal due to higher hay exports to drought areas in the U.S., depleting the total supply.

Reports of less than normal rainfall are leading to the production of smaller hay yields. Inventories also continue to decline as more hay is exported out of the state. Michigan farms are very vulnerable to shortages of hay which will put expanded demand for all forages for the remainder of the growing season.

Farms with livestock should take the time to estimate their farm’s total feed needs. Inventorying what is currently on hand and considering what estimated production will be for the remainder of this year’s growing season is a key component of a sound feed management plan. Some basic planning and management now could help to balance the supply of each feed and allow changes to the harvest mix to insure your farm’s total feed and forage needs.

A feed inventory is simply establishing the current inventory of feed on your farm. It involves determining the volume of each feed stored on the farm and then multiplying each amount by the density of that stored feed. The results are the total yield and weight of each feed stored. When the inventory is then compared to the farm’s projected feed needs over the coming year, this gives the farm manager a projected feed surplus or needs value.

There are some great resources to help producers in this effort. For hand calculated systems, and for input values in some spreadsheets, one very useful resource is the Midwest Plan Service Dairy Freestall Housing and Equipment Handbook (MWPS). In this handbook, producers can find tables that will help them determine quantities of feed based on volume measurements made on the farm.

For those with some computer savvy, but without automated feed management software, there are spreadsheets available through the University of Wisconsin Extension’s website and there is also a nice feed inventory spreadsheet available through Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Dairy Educator, Craig Thomas. These programs perform a lot of the mundane calculations for you, but you will still have to conduct regular measurements and input the data manually to acquire your current inventory numbers.

Feed inventory planning and management takes this feed inventory information that you have determined and uses the information to plan how long feed inventories will last, given current rations, and also allows the producer to do some “what if” planning scenarios. Current ration consumption reduce feed inventory each day, while projected ration changes can model how much of each ingredient would be consumed if changes are made. The ability to forecast feed inventory needs/changes using “what if” scenarios is critical in today’s high cost/high price volatility environment. Consider contacting your farm’s nutritionist who can be a great resource in the development of projected feed needs.

Farms that project shortages may want to become active in the evaluation of options if they have to purchase hay or other forages during the growing season. Michigan dairy and beef cattle enterprises have a wide variety of basic crops that can be considered along with a large number of alternative or non-traditional feed sources. Some of these alternative feeds like sugar beet pulp will be seasonal and require a farm make early purchase arrangements to insure adequate supplies will be available during this fall and winter production seasons.    

Spending some of your valuable management time on feed inventory planning will allow your farm to make shifts in the farm’s feed and forage needs more easily to better match the supply of various feed sources that may be available.  

This year’s early spring warm-up pushed the growing season a week or two ahead of normal with most farms now finishing up on second cutting hay crop. Many farm reports are coming in indicating that hay yields are falling short of normal production. Much of Michigan is now reporting shortages in soil moisture which is lowering potential hay production below last year’s levels, which could leave some farms short on total hay needed for their livestock. Michigan has also seen a reduction in the total acres in hay production over the past several years which may also impact a farm’s ability to purchase additional hay to insure next winter’s feed needs.

The management challenge for all livestock farms is to identify those feed and forage commodities that may be in short supply and consider options to replace shortages so they can be purchased at favorable prices to help lower the farm’s feed costs. Risk management in today’s environment requires a full scale assault on managing costs in a holistic and integrated approach.

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