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Drought Stressed Silage And Your Dairy Cows

Protecting Your Herd During Summer

A dairy cow eating silageDid your area experience prolonged periods of little to no rainfall and extremely high temperatures this summer? How can you curtail your silage harvest accordingly and still provide nourishment for your dairy herd?

What can you do now?

Harvest your corn silage properly. Make sure you chop at the proper moisture, chop at the correct particle length and pack properly if using bunker silo or bag. Consider using silage inoculants to ensure ideal fermentation.

After harvest you can take a corn silage inventory and see how much you have. Feeding decisions, feed purchasing decisions or winter crop planting decisions could be based on your corn silage inventory. It's better to plan ahead now, compared to calling your nutritionist in January and saying "I'm out of corn silage, send me a new ration".

How can you protect your cows?

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The first step to protecting your cows is knowing what's in your silage. Prior to feeding your silage submit a silage sample for nutrient analysis. Your local Southern States store can point you in the right direction when it comes to submitting your sample. This will not only give a "report card" on your silage quality, but it will also show if your silage has a nitrate problem.

Drought can cause nitrates to form in corn plants, especially in lower stalks. Although precautions can be made during silage harvest to reduce nitrates, dairy farmers should use caution when feeding drought stressed corn silage to their herd. In sufficient quantities nitrates can cause abortions in pregnant cows and poison your herd.

Ensiling can reduce nitrates if the silage is allowed 4-6 weeks for fermentation. Using drought stressed corn for silage is its best use as the nitrate levels can be reduced 40% to 60% during fermentation.

Avoid letting your herd have access to fields with lots of weeds. During times of drought herbicides may not work, allowing weeds to accumulate. Weeds such as wild sunflower, barnyard grass, pigweed and more can accumulate toxic levels of nitrates.

How can you protect your profit?

By being proactive and testing your silage prior to feeding, not only can you protect your cows from nitrates, but you can also protect your profit margin. The nutrient test results will show what nutrients are lacking (i.e. energy) compared to normal corn silage and your nutritionist might have to re-balance the ration for optimal milk production. Typically you must feed more grain with drought stressed corn silage because of its low energy value. Your local Southern States store can help you choose an appropriate feed to supplement your drought stressed corn silage.

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