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Balancing Livestock and Forage to Thrive Past the Drought

Joan Sinclair Petzen, Farm Business Management
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

September 12, 2016
Balancing Livestock and Forage to Thrive Past the Drought

Take a critical look and evaluate the feeding and production strategies employed at your farm to see if they are still the best way to achieve your income goals. The first step is to determine the nutrient needs of each group of livestock and in total. Next is to estimate the amount of home grown nutrients available toward meeting that need. Most farms in the region already rely on purchasing some nutrients in the form of grain for their livestock and are likely to need to increase those purchases.

If you find you will be short of feed with your present strategy, there are a number of alternatives to consider for bringing your feed and livestock into balance.

  • Increase the proportion of grain to forage in the ration. This is most viable when grain prices are low relative to forage and you have plenty of forage in the ration already. With this alternative, it is important to be certain you are meeting the fiber requirements of the cow.
  • Purchase forage from a neighbor or outside the region. When purchasing forage, quality is a very important consideration. Know what you are getting from a quality perspective. A nutrient dense feed may come with a hefty price tag but it may be less costly per pound of nutrients than a less expensive feed harvested past its prime. Your network is important now. Keep in touch with others in the industry to learn who might have extra feed they are willing to sell either from their storage or standing in the field. With low grain prices, grain producers might be willing to sell their corn to you for forage rather than combining it.
  • Planting a winter annual grains for forage and harvesting it in the early spring can be employed to boost early spring forage yields. Adequate soil moisture for germination this fall and timely establishment will maximize yields early next spring to help bring your forage inventory back in balance with herd demands.
  • For grazers, keeping watch of your pasture and tightening up the grazing interval as you reintroduce cattle to the pastures once grass starts growing again will give more time for recovery and strengthening of the pasture plants going into the coming winter. An application of nitrogen as pastures green up again will help stimulate fall regrowth and lengthen your grazing season once moisture levels increase. If you are forced to graze tight in the fall you will need to plan for slower starting pastures in the spring. 
  • Consider boarding youngstock with someone who has adequate forage. You might need to look outside the local area to find a heifer grower who has the feed enough to accommodate your heifers.
  • Culling the herd heavily may be necessary if inventories are critically low and additional quality forage is not available. To maximize forage savings, make and execute culling decisions sooner rather than later to minimize the number of livestock you need to liquidate to stay within the confines of your forage inventory. Remember, the younger animals are, the less impact culling them will have on conserving forage. You also want to be certain you have replacements in the pipeline to bring the milking string back to full force once your forage inventories are stabilized Establish criteria for aggressive culling and monitor livestock and forage inventories frequently to be certain you have enough feed to carry your herd through to the next harvest season. Our colleagues across the state have developed a couple of resources to help with culling criteria.  
The first is an article by Ron Kuck that discusses management options for different groups of livestock:
The second is a spreadsheet that illustrates the contribution a cow makes toward fixed costs at different milk prices and production levels:|2 (called culling guide) 
Taking a pro-active approach will help you position your livestock enterprise to thrive after the drought. Managing feed inventories and livestock numbers is a delicate dance but the effort you put into it will pay dividends in added returns for your business. 











calendar of events

Upcoming Events

Beginning Farmer/Hobby Farmer Workshop $5/pp, class size is limited, so pre-register by April 15th!

April 27, 2019
9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Canandaigua, NY

This hands-on workshop is for beginning or part-time farmers who would like to improve their farm machinery skills, learn to properly and safely maintain their equipment to protect their investment. If you have been thinking about buying a tractor, new or used, two-wheel or four-wheel drive, compact or utility or more come join us. Topics include: selecting the right size/type tractor for the job; basic maintenance; staying safe around tractors and equipment; attaching implements properly; and information about ROPS and SMV's. There will be time for questions.

Pre-registration requested by April 15, 2019 email Amy with your name, address, and phone number or call 585-394-3977 x 429.
Fee: $5.00/person. Class size is limited.

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2019 Pastured Poultry Seminar, lunch included so please register by May 10th! $25/person

May 18, 2019
Registration begins at 8:00 a.m.w/ coffee & donuts with the Program running from 9:00 a.m. - 5 p. m.
Attica, NY

The main speaker this year is Eli Reiff of Mifflinburg Pennsylvania. Eli raises broilers, turkeys, sheep, and beef, all on pasture. Topics to be covered will include the pasture, feed and nutrition, marketing, costs, and much more. As we grow as farm operators and get bigger, we may not pay as much attention to the basics as we should. So those areas are where we will start, and then expand to cover the group's interests.

Mike Badger, Director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association will also be available for a round-table discussion. Plans are to have representatives from Farm Bureau, NYCAMH for farm health and safety, Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, as well as others.

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Calling all 9th-12th graders! 4th Annual Precision Agriculture Day at Genesee Community College

May 21, 2019
9:00 am - 1:30 pm Register by Friday May 10th! $15/per person includes lunch
Batavia, NY

Calling all 9th-12th graders!  We have an exciting new program for students interested in technology, science, engineering, and agriculture!
Would you like to:
  • Learn about how Drones collect information
  • Check out some potential career opportunities that have new and ever-changing technology
  • Learn how these technologies can be used in our own backyards in WNY
  • Discover potential and exciting career opportunities

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Producers Previously Enrolled in the LGM Program Now Eligible for MPP

Dairy Producers Previously Enrolled in the Livestock Gross Margin Program Now Eligible for 2018 Margin Protection Program
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that dairy producers who elected to participate in the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy Cattle Program (LGM-Dairy) now have the opportunity to participate in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) for 2018 coverage. Sign-up will take place March 25 through May 10, 2019.
Eligible producers can enroll during the sign-up period at their local USDA service center. To locate your office, visit

Smart Farming Team Technical Assistance Grant Application

The Labor Ready Farmer Project is offering grants to provide up to 12 hours of Technical Assistance (TA) consulting services to farms who want to make improvements to their farm's processes in hiring, training, managing or evaluating employees. Applicants will choose from one of the following four areas for TA assistance and identify a specific project. If selected they will be matched with a "Smart Farming Team" of consultants who will provide one on one technical assistance.
Please complete this application and send to Nicole Waters, Beginning Farm Project Coordinator for the Cornell Small Farms Program. The form can be submitted by email, mail or in-person at the address listed below. Please feel free to call or email with any questions.

Nicole Waters - Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator
Plant Science Building, Room 15b
Tower Road, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: 607-255-9911

Applications accepted on a rolling basis.

USDA Announces January Income over Feed Cost Margin Triggers First 2019 Dairy Sa

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2019 ? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced this week that the January 2019 income over feed cost margin was $7.99 per hundredweight, triggering the first payment for eligible dairy producers who purchase the appropriate level of coverage under the new but yet-to-be established Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, is a voluntary risk management program for dairy producers that was authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. DMC offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week that sign up for 
DMC will open by mid-June of this year. At the time of sign up, producers who elect a DMC coverage level between $8.00 and $9.50 would be eligible for a payment for January 2019.

For example, a dairy operation with an established production history of 3 million pounds (30,000 cwt.) that elects the $9.50 coverage level for 50 percent of its production could potentially be eligible to receive $1,887.50 for January.

Sample calculation:
$9.50 - $7.99 margin = $1.51 difference
$1.51 times 50 percent of production times 2,500 cwt. (30,000 cwt./12) = $1,887.50

The calculated annual premium for coverage at $9.50 on 50 percent of a 3-million-pound production history for this example would be $2,250.

Sample calculation:
3,000,000 times 50 percent = 1,500,000/100 = 15,000 cwt. times 0.150 premium fee = $2,250

Operations making a one-time election to participate in DMC through 2023 are eligible to receive a 25 percent discount on their premium for the existing margin coverage rates.

"Congress created the Dairy Margin Coverage program to provide an important financial safety net for dairy producers, helping them weather shifting milk and feed prices," FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said. "This program builds on the previous Margin Protection Program for Dairy, carrying forward many of the program upgrades made last year based on feedback from producers. We're working diligently to implement the DMC program and other FSA programs authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill."

Additional details about DMC and other FSA farm bill program changes can be found at

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1