GUEST COLUMN: Ideas for dairies dealing with weather challenges

Ideas for dairies dealing with weather challenges

By David R Balbian, M.S., P.A.S.

This extremely wet spring has caused delays in the harvest of hay crop in our region. Most people have not harvested any hay crop, yet the crop has continued to mature with most grass fields in our first-cut monitoring program exceeding 55 percent NDF, some even exceeding 60 percent NDF. There is little milk to be made with this forage. Additional grain will only help a little.

This feed will put a lid on your herd’s ability to be productive. So, what to do? Here are some ideas to consider; they do not fit for everyone, as every dairy has their own unique set of circumstances to deal with. I simply put them out there for you to take into consideration to help maintain some economic viability with your operation.

  1. Skip over your grass fields (and maybe mixed stands). Harvest your alfalfa and perhaps your mixed stands. Separate this poorer hay crop when storing and utilize it for dry cows and perhaps older, growing heifers. Be sure to rebalance diets.
  2. Utilize the first-cut monitoring update information that Kevin Ganoe sent to you yesterday (OR CLICK HERE). Find the fields that most closely match your geographic location to see where you stand. This information will help you to make these decisions.
  3. If you have a market for later-cut dry hay and you can make dry hay and you can sell it, an option to get some value out of this feed.
  4. Some of this late cut grass could perhaps be utilized as bedding.
  5. If you have a good inventory of corn silage and you must feed some of this poorer hay crop to the lactating cows, consider moving to a heavier C.S. diet. This will reduce the negative effects of this poorer hay crop on milk production.
  6. If you traditionally grow some corn for grain, consider diverting more of it to silage to allow you to reduce the amount of poor hay crop you may have to feed. Then feed more corn silage.
  7. If you have to feed some of this poor hay crop, you may want to consider adding some digestible fiber sources to the diet such as soy hulls, brewers grain, citrus pulp, etc. This will add some cost. To get the milk response benefit, you’ll need to replace some forage (the poorer hay crop forage) with these ingredients.
  8. Be sure to feed your grassy fields (when harvested) with nitrogen to increase yields on subsequent cuttings and to increase its protein content. If this rainy weather continues, grasses will respond well to the additional nitrogen. Connect with Kevin Ganoe for some specific advice on this. Store this separately from poorer-quality feed and allocate it to your lactating cows.
  9. Work with your nutritionist to develop a plan that is specific for your operation, based on your situation and circumstances.
  10. Definitely harvest the high-quality hay crop that you may have still out in the field first, then plant your corn.

I am sure there are some other ideas that people may have to minimize the negative effects this late harvested hay crop can have on your milking herd. I simply put these out there for you to consider. I know they do not work for everyone, but perhaps a few or even one idea could be greatly beneficial. Remember, productivity is a primary factor linked to economic viability on the vast majority of dairy farms.

David R Balbian, M.S., P.A.S., is Area Dairy Management Specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension – Central New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops. He can be reached at

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