Between alfalfa winterkill and frequent spring and summer rains, achieving high quality and adequate yield of forages has been very challenging this year.
There is concern about forage inventory and quality needs. Some worry they won’t have enough feed to last through the year. While it is impossible to predict when these kinds of weather events may happen, one tool in the toolbox that farms may want to consider for the future is using alternative forages such as ryelage in the ration. Triticale silage can also be used, but this article will focus on ryelage because it was studied in a research project conducted by University of Wisconsin-Extension last year.
While it is more common for ryelage to be fed to heifers, the project looked at two farms feeding it to lactating cows. Ryelage samples were taken over the summer months to determine quality. Farm records including milk production, animal size, ration formulation and ingredient analysis were programmed into a computer modeling software.
This information was used as a base, and then various scenarios were run that replaced corn silage or alfalfa silage in the diet with ryelage at different inclusion rates. One farm fed about 4 pounds per head and the other about 9 pounds per head on a dry-matter basis in the actual diet, and milk production was about 82 pounds per day and 93 pounds per day, respectively.
Does that mean everyone could feed these amounts and achieve the same milk production? No, but at the same time, it’s not impossible. As a common Extension saying goes, “It depends.” It depends on factors such as nutrition, facilities and management — just to name a few.
The takeaway conclusion from the research is that ryelage could replace alfalfa haylage if it is high quality, and this is something that could be discussed with the farm’s nutritionist as a possible feeding strategy during times of feed shortage. Therefore, the biggest determining factor farms should use when deciding what to feed and which group or groups to feed it to is quality. This largely depends on harvest timing, and ryelage quality can decrease very rapidly.
Harvesting at boot stage is best for inclusion in lactating cow diets, but it is equally important to not let rye get too much growth to the point where harvesting equipment can’t handle it. It is a balancing act and one that requires careful monitoring and correct identification of growth stage when feeding to cows. If used for heifer feed, the harvesting window is not as short. The study also found that increasing the proportion of corn silage replacing ryelage or alfalfa silage in the diet was beneficial based on modeling scenarios. In either case, it’s important to work closely with the farm’s nutritionist to create a balanced ration.
Research is being conducted for a second year across 12 farms in Wisconsin. The research team will run modeling scenarios for both heifer and lactating cow rations this year. The full journal article summarizing last year’s data can be found in the Journal of the National Association of County Agriculture Agents, Volume 12 Issue 1.
Binversie is the Extension agriculture educator in Brown County, Wis. This column is provided by the University of Wisconsin-Extension Dairy Team.