Article Summary:

There are many factors that can decrease the quality and yield of forage harvest and ultimately your farm profit. Therefore, in this article, we aim to give you the right knowledge and tools to increase the quality and yield of your harvest. Here are tips to do that.

The cultivation of forage has an important role in increasing the productivity of green forage per unit area and the utilization of natural environmental resources.

Each spring, you have a long list of things you need to complete on a timely basis in order to increase the forage quality and yield. And rightly so, because forage accounts for approximately one-half of the total cost of producing milk, and high-quality forage optimizes the productivity of the animals.

The goal of this article is to provide you as a forage producer with important management tips to help you maximize your forage yield and quality.

In order to increase the efficiency of the production of high-quality forage, we need to understand what forage quality is and what factors influence it.

What is Forage Quality?

When thinking about forage quality, you might think it is a measure of the nutritional value of feed for livestock. It is determined by the feed's chemical composition and mineral content, as well as the digestibility of the feed by the animal.

We know that forage quality can be indexed to represent animal performance and other such criteria.

Forage quality can be broken down into the following constituents

  1. Sum total of the plant constituents
  2. Potential feeding value
  3. Palatability
  4. Associative feed effects

Factors Affecting Forage Quality and Yield:

The following factors affect the quality of forage harvest:

1. Storage

Subpar storage techniques can drastically reduce the quality of forage over time.

For example, improper ensiling and incorrect moisture content can lead to a drastic fall in the forage quality.

Therefore, keeping your storage techniques can reduce economic losses during harvest and storage.

2. Soil Fertility

Unproductive soil reduces the overall yield of forage even if it does not affect its quality all that much. High soil fertility can substantially increase the yield of forage.

A proper balance of minerals is necessary for increasing forage yield. Adequate levels of Potassium and Phosphorus in the soil can lead to better forage yield, as well as quality.

3. Variety of Crop Species

Different species of grasses and legumes have varying levels of nutrient content. Many legumes have higher levels of proteins, energy and micronutrients than that of grasses.

However, The fibre content of many kinds of grass is easier to digest for herbivores, than that of legumes. Therefore, a mixture of different types of grasses and legumes makes for a higher quality forage which is ideal for livestock.

4. Environment

Weather fluctuations, in general, directly impact forage yield and quality. Sunlight, rain, temperature, moisture and humidity all have an important role to play. Lack of sunlight leads to reduced yield due to inadequate photosynthetic activity.

Adequate rain is necessary for the proper growth of forage plants.

High temperature may lead to lignin accumulation in cell walls of plants which lead to an increase in mechanical strength of plant stalks and a decrease in quality.

Drought stress, on the other hand, may lead to delay in maturity which may actually benefit forage quality.

5. Maturity

On that note, maturity or harvest date also greatly affects the quality and quantity of forage. It is perhaps the most important factor. During their growth cycle, plants continuously change in forage quality as it is not a static characteristic.

Lignin accumulation in the cell wall increases with maturity. Therefore, it is feasible to harvest forage plants before the onset of maturity to preserve their quality. 

However, premature harvesting may lead to a decrease in forage yield. Therefore, in this case, the farmer must find a balance between yield and quality and choose an appropriate time for the harvest.

6. Pests

Pests, such as insects and weeds, can drastically affect the quality and yield of forage.

Weeds compete with crops for water nutrients, lights, and space. Insect pests feed on crop leaves. They can significantly reduce yield due to leaf loss.

Moreover, both insect pests and weeds carry various disease-causing agents which can directly harm the forage crop health.

Conserved silage ready for feeding to cattle during the slow growth winter months

Conserved silage ready for feeding to cattle during the slow growth winter months

Tips For Better harvest

As mentioned earlier the focus of this article is to provide farmers with the right tools and knowledge, which they may utilize to increase the quality and yield of forage, which, in turn, would produce healthy livestock and that, in turn, would lead to substantial economic gains in the long run.

Here are five tips that will make your forage harvest more productive and efficient.

1. Cut by Plant Height

Always measure the plant height at the top of the stem, never the tip of the leaflet. Do not harvest more than 28-30 inches in height. This will give you the best compromise between the quality and yield of the forage.

Letting the plants grow any more than that will lead to an increase in lignin accumulation and a decrease in crude protein content by 0.25 per cent on a daily basis.

2. Maximize Windrow Width

A plant continues to respire even after it is cut. This aids in the drying process. It also increases dry matter yield by burning plant sugars. Dry matter yield may increase up to 7% due to respiration. Moreover, loss of sugar may lead to improper fermentation.

It can be significantly controlled by reducing the time during which the mowed forage remains in the windrow.

One of the most efficient and common ways to do this is to maximize the windrow width. The goal is to increase exposure to sunlight as much as possible. 

Windrows should be at least 80% of the cutter bar width.

Although, it comes with the trade-off of leaving more stubble on the ground. However, the increase in the overall yield more than makes up for that loss.

3. Choose the right time

As mentioned earlier, choosing the right tie for harvest is crucial to harvesting grass forage for hay and silage.

When you cut, ted and rake will have a big impact on the yield and quality of your harvest.

Harvest too early and you compromise yield. Too late and say goodbye to that high-quality forage. Again, find the best compromise between quantity and quality.

4. Use a High-Density Baler

A high-density baler is the best investment you can make today, which will increase your feed value per bale.

What it means is that you get to move more bales per trip whenever you transport dry matter. This will reduce transport costs. The total number of trips can be reduced by up to 30%.

By packing more forage per bale, you can reduce picking and handling costs. It also uses less bale wrap and twine, so it’s a win no matter how you look at it.

5. Move Bales Faster

If you leave bales out on the paddock, they will each cover a small circular patch of ground. All sunlight would be blocked off from reaching the freshly cut crop under these bales. These plants will no longer be able to photosynthesize and grow and as a result, you will get lots of 1.3m wide circles with reduced or no growth. 

So move the bales off the paddock as soon as you can to ensure those patches of grass get back to producing forage crops for you.

And there you have it. These are the five most important tips we can give you to help you gain better yield and quality of forage every harvest.

Until we meet again, Happy Forage Harvesting!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2022-06-15