Whole forage team not on the same page? Now's the time to get there
A commentary by Chris Wacek-Driver, Vita Plus forage program manager.
As March begins and we're optimistic that the snow will soon melt, we're looking forward to spring and summer and being back in the fields. That includes putting together our forage plans. But is everyone on the same page? If we aren't now, we surely won't be come harvest season.
Let's fast-forward a few months. It's time to put up your corn silage. You want to make sure you have the inventory and the quality feed that will take you through the year ahead.
Your custom harvester wants to do a good job of taking care of all customers safely and efficiently. Your nutritionist wants the feed to be high quality with results are reflected in the milk tank. And all of this must happen in a very narrow window of time.
Working with producers and harvesters over the years, I've come to see that good communication amongst members of the whole forage team is what makes or breaks the harvest.
All components - picking hybrids, chopping, processing, packing, storing and feeding - need to come together. It's not just about the crop. It's not just about the feed. It's not just about the cow. It's not even just about the milk. It's about the end consumer as well.
As you look to harvest this year, I challenge you to approach your planning with this big-picture view.
Get your team together face-to-face, including your agronomist, harvester, nutritionist, feeder, herdsman and any other key members. Clearly discuss your goals. Then make sure you're all measuring those goals the same way.
For example, your nutritionist may expect a certain length of cut and he or she will measure it with a shaker box or tape measure. Specifically ask how it will be measured and what the expectations are. Your harvester might work toward that goal, but he or she will adjust the cut with a setting on the machine.
With two different views, will the end product be what both parties expect? Goals need to be clear, with operational, measurable definitions.
Why worry about these issues now? If you wait to start talking about them when everyone is flying through harvest, it's going to be too late. Having your strategy set now crosses off one item on your to-do list come September or October.
That said, don't forget a Plan B. Many of us are feeling the effects of 2012's drought.
As you're sitting down with your team, discuss what your strategy will be if another drought limits yields, if a rainstorm delays harvest, or if strong winds dry the corn too fast in the field.
Discuss how those goals change if we are limited on forage this year and need to immediately transition into feeding 2013 corn silage.
If you're not sure where to start with these meetings, work with your Vita Plus consultant. We appreciate the opportunity to work with your team, clearly understand your goals, and communicate effectively throughout the cropping season.
We can help you pull together the meeting and make sure we're all working as a team to meet your dairy's goals.
Chris Wacek-Driver grew up on a farm outside of Denmark and attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where she earned her bachelor's degree in dairy science with an ag business minor. She went on to receive her master's degree from UW-Madison. She conducted her research focusing on forage quality at the USDA Forage Center under Dr. Larry Satter. In particular, she studied forage fermentation, the role of microbial and enzyme additives, and their effects on dairy animal performance. Wacek-Driver has been a Vita Plus employee owner for the past 21 years and worked in dairy technical services prior to her current role. She has a passion for working with dairy producers to help them with on-farm feed inventory, feed management, forage fermentation and production, and dairy nutrition. She resides on a 240-acre farm along the bluffs of the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin.