Ten Keys to a Profitable Forage Program
By Don Ball, Extension Forage Crop Agronomist
- Focus on Forage - Forage typically accounts for over half the cost of production of forage-consuming animals and provides most of their nutrition. Thus, it has a major influence on expenses and income. Efficient forage production and utilization are essential to a profitable operation.
- Know Forage Options, Animal Nutritional Needs, and Establishment Requirements - Forages vary as to adaptation,growth distribution, forage quality, yield and potential uses. Various types and classes of animals have different nutritional needs. Good planting decisions depend on knowing forage options for the land and the nutritional needs of the animals.
- Soil Test, then Lime and Fertilize as Needed - This practice, more than any other, affects the level and economic efficiency of forage production. It helps ensure good yields, improves forage quality, lengthens stand life and reduces weed problems.
- Use Legumes when Feasible - Legumes offer important advantages including improved forage quality and biological nitrogen fixation. Every producer should regularly consider on a field-by-field basis whether the,introduction or enhancement of legumes would be beneficial and feasible. Once legumes have been established, proper management optimizes benefits.
- Emphasize Forage Quality - Good animal performance requires adequate nutrition. Producing high-quality forage requires knowledge and management. Matching forage quality to animal nutritional needs greatly increases efficiency.
- Prevent/Minimize Pests and Disorders - Diseases, insects, nematodes and weeds lower yields, reduce forage quality and/or steal water, nutrients, light and space from forage plants. Variety selection, cultural practices, scouting, pesticides and other management techniques can minimize pest problems. Knowledge of potential animal disorders can help avoid them.
- Strive to Improve Pasture Utilization - The quantity and quality of pasture growth vary over time. Periodic adjustments in stocking rate or use of cross fencing to vary the type or amount of available forage can greatly affect animal performance and pasture species composition. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of different grazing methods allows use of various approaches as needed to reach objectives. Matching stocking rates with forage production is also extremely important.
- Minimize Stored Feed Requirements - Stored feed is one of the most expensive aspects of animal production, so lowering requirements reduces costs. Extending the grazing season with use of both cool-season and warm-season forages, stockpiling forage and grazing crop residues are examples of ways stored feed needs can be reduced.
- Reduce Storage and Feeding Losses - Wasting hay, silage or other stored feed is costly! On many farms the average storage loss for round bales stored outside exceeds 30 percent, and feeding losses can easily be as high or higher.
- Never Stop Improving - Rarely, if ever, do we get something for nothing. In human endeavors, results are usually highly correlated with investments in terms of thought, time, effort and a certain amount of money.
Adaptation of original "Ten Keys" document prepared by Dr. Don Ball, Auburn University; Dr. Carl Hoveland, University of Georgia; and Dr. Garry Lacefield,University of Kentucky.