Forage Workshop Offers Valuable Information to Producers


Typically when someone describes their favorite day of the year, a holiday or significant time in their life will be described. For Keith Johnson, Purdue Forage Extension Specialist, that day is the Forage Management Workshop at the Purdue Diagnostic Training and Research Center. A day filled with teaching producers, County Extension Educators and Natural Resource Conservation personnel about the importance of forage management is something Johnson lives and breathes. 

The Forage Management Day at the Purdue University Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center is my favorite day of the year because of the challenge to develop hands-on learning curricula for the attendees,” Johnson said. “Those that come to the training are eager to learn skills and knowledge that helps them with their understanding of best management forage practices.”

The forage management workshop typically consists of a variety of topics, useful to all levels of producers and service professionals in attendance. 

This year, evaluating forage quality was a popular topic. Participants went through four different types of hay and ranked them from high to low based on maturity, leaf retention, mold and dust content, color and weed presence. During this exercise Johnson explained that visual analysis is not the only way forages should be analyzed.  

“It is helpful to feel and smell each sample of hay and not rely on sight alone when assessing hay attributes,” Johnson said. “For example you might not visually see a section of mold starting to form, but there may be musty odor. I once had a sheep producer contact me about his sheep not eating what he thought was high quality alfalfa hay. When I evaluated his sample by touch, I immediately withdrew my hand and said ‘ouch’ because of the prickles that were on a trace of Canada Thistle found in the hay. Chemical analysis of Canada Thistle and alfalfa are nearly the same, but when I touched the hay I found the problem. I wouldn’t want to eat the hay either, even though nutrient content was exceptional.”  

Although sensory analysis is a quick way to evaluate hay, nutrient analysis should be done, too, so rations can be developed that meet the need of the animal being fed. Using a bale probe to sample hay provides a better representative sample as compared to pulling subsample by hand from the bale. 

“The reason we take samples with the bale probe is because hay can be lost when we take a section from a bale with our hands, leaving room for error. By using the probe we can get a better sample,” Johnson said. “Place the probe on the butt end of the bale, across the flake, and use an electric drill or hand brace to power the probe. Once the sample has been taken, empty the coring from the probe into a plastic bag and repeat the process on approximately 19 more bales from the same harvest and field. The combined cores represent the sample that is sent to the lab for analysis.” 

After participants evaluated the hay samples, Dr. Ron Lemenager, Beef Nutrition Specialist, presented the different nutritional needs cows have during their production cycle. 

Lemenager said as the cow is nearing the end of her pregnancy the protein amount in her diet should increase.

“At different stages of a cow’s pregnancy her needs are going to change,” Lemenager said. “Taking the time and the resources to evaluate the hay you have is a way to ensure the cow is receiving the correct amount of nutrients in her diet. For example, the protein needs of a cow in her second trimester are much lower compared to her needs in lactation. By evaluating your hay, feeding her the appropriate type of hay at the correct stages of pregnancy, you can save money in the long run.” 

Mark Gilbert, hay producer from Columbus, Ind. and member of the Indiana Forage Council, said this was the first time he has attended the forage management workshop. 

“I have gained more knowledge about the forage industry from this workshop, than most I have attended,” Gilbert said. “I think the workshop is very good and informative. I sell a lot of hay to customers who have horses. For myself I would like to see a mix of animal nutrition covered.” 

In the afternoon participants were able to walk the field plots and learn about seed quality, alternative forages, forage stand assessment and forage options following wheat harvest. 

Sam Stratton, Forage Program Director with FFR Cooperative, discussed alternative forage grasses for Indiana.

“Cool-season grasses form the backbone of the forage pasture and hay systems in Indiana,” Stratton said. “Traditionally the bulk of the grasses have been in tall fescue, orchardgrass, unimproved bluegrass, timothy, smooth bromegrass and ryegrasses. While these species have served us well, it is important to consider new options to include in our forage system.” 

Stratton spoke about meadow bromegrass and meadow fescue. 

“Meadow bromegrass originated in Eastern Europe and Asia and is widely used in Canada and the northwestern parts of the United States,” Stratton said. “This is a bunch grass with excellent winter hardiness and is drought tolerant. Meadow fescue is a relative of tall fescue, withorigination in northern Europe. The grass is slow to establish and is highly susceptible to foliar disease, but is tolerant to frequent grazing and mowing.” 

“Just as none of our currently used species are the perfect forage, neither are meadow bromegrass or meadow fescue,” Stratton said. “Factors other than agronomic performance will weigh on the decision to incorporate new species into your forage system. Based on the data from other states and the observation in Indiana, both of these grasses appear to have a potential place in a complete forage system for Indiana producers.” 

Tammy Swihart, District Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the field day is a good way to refresh on forages.

“The field day is a great way for me to refresh my knowledge about forages and an opportunity for me to learn about seed and forage species, so I can communicate current information to producers in my county,” Swihart said. “A lot of the information presented at the field is useful information that producers can incorporate into their current practices. Having a facility where field plots can be demonstrated is very useful. It is hard to see diversity in large fields.” 

Each year at the Forage Management Field Day a variety of topics are covered. No matter the topic, Johnson said he has not succeeded with this day's training's curricula if the participants do not leave with grass stains on their pants, dirt under their fingernails and an eagerness to learn more about forage crops. 

The next Forage Management Field Day will be September 4, 2014.