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Technical Bulletins

HAYLAGE

by Mike Bettle, BSc. Hons. Animal Physiology & Nutrition
University of Leeds, England

Well, here we are at the start of the haylage season again, but it certainly seems to have taken an eternity to get here. With such a severe winter here in the Mid-West we have had our fair share of winter kill, but thankfully, not as much as last year. Our main problem this year is the cold spring causing slow crop growth. With forages in short supply things are nip and tuck on many of the farms I visit, especially where hay and haylage are concerned, with many dairies starting to feed ``green chop" to tide them over.

Yes, this is definitely a dairy nutritionists favorite time of the Year!! Old crop is running out, switch to some hay that "we've been meaning to get around to feeding for the last couple of years" and now green chop, no wonder the cows are asking what in the heck is going on?

Alfalfa is a staple in any dairy ration in the Mid-West and it represents not only an excellent forage source but also, potentially, the dairy farmers cheapest source of protein. In my opinion as much as alfalfa as is possible should be put up as haylage. With the expansion in herd size that we are seeing, this haylage should be put up in bunks. Admittedly in bunks it is harder to manage the art of haylage preservation but with proven, enzyme based additive, the right moisture levels (75%-65%) and plenty of compaction with a narrow tire tractor you are well on the way to success.

However, as with any other forage program, what comes out of the bunk, stack or bale, can only be as good as what goes in and then only when first class management principles are applied. This is the reason I favor haylage over dry hay.

Haylage:

  1. Cuts down on time the crop is exposed to the vagaries of the Mid-Western weather. Too wet or too hot and dry.
  2. Minimizes potential dry matter losses from both weather and excessive handling (especially from leaf shatter if too dry).
  3. Speeds up the harvesting process.

The other deciding factor on forage quality is stage of growth at cutting. A mature, flowering plant is nice if you have a friend in the hospital but not for a high producing dairy cow. Try to cut at mid to late bud stage in order to maximize nutrient yield, aiming for a crop RFV of 150, an ADF and NDF of around 30% to 40% respectively and a crude protein of 22-24%.

Most of the feed value of the alfalfa plant is in the leaf, with a Net Energy of lactation 0.77 Mcal/DMIb and a crude protein of around 28%. This demonstrates the necessity of retaining as much of the leaf material as possible through the harvesting process. One pound of alfalfa leaf dry matter supports 2.5 lbs. of milk production, the plant is 50% leaf and up to 80% of the leaves can be lost if hay is worked when too dry through leaf shatter. With a potential dry matter yield of 3.5 tons/acre/year, this could represent the loss of 2800 lbs. of leaf dry matter or the equivalent of 7000 lbs. of milk that could have been produced from an acre of home grown feed. I will let you put the financial numbers to that, but suffice to say no-one can afford that sort of loss, so don't risk it!

The protein in alfalfa haylage is highly rumen degradable. This is the protein that feeds the bugs in the rumen and if the above management steps are taken the protein from alfalfa can be all the rumen will require to maintain moderate milk yields. However, the levels of milk production that are required today from the modern dairy cow need further supplementation with ingredients with higher high levels of rumen undegradable protein. These are proteins that pass through the rumen, to a greater extent, in their dietary form, without being broken down in the rumen.

Without a doubt, one of the most economical sources of quality, rumen undegradable protein is the high by-pass, expeller soybean meal, SoyBEST. The protein in SoyBEST is not highly soluble in the rumen and therefore balances alfalfa protein very well, especially when its is necessary to increase dietary protein levels for high milk production.

The amino acid profile of SoyBEST is highly suited to support high levels of milk production. It contains high levels of lysine which is the first limiting amino acid for milk production. Of the second limiting amino acid, methionine, soybeans naturally fall slightly lower than optimum in their content, but this can be rectified with the addition of a by-pass methionine source. This will then give SoyBEST and ideal amino acid profile, in fact one very similar to that of the protein of rumen microbes, which of course is the perfect protein for milk production.

When considering by-pass protein sources, try SoyBEST…….Naturally the best!

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