Forage Profile

Feed consistency drives success at Christian Family Farms

Rick Christian Theresa, Wisconsin | Dodge County | 180 cows


Describe your farm and facilities. This is the family farm that I grew up on, and I farm with help from my dad and two full-time employees. We milk twice a day in a double-8 parallel parlor, and cows are housed in a freestall barn. We built new facilities 10 years ago. We raise our youngstock, with calves starting out in hutches. They are then moved into super hutches before moving to our other farm where heifers stay until breeding age. We have 225 head of youngstock. Our farm is one of three farms that ships its milk to Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa.

What forages do you harvest? We harvest corn silage and haylage.

How many acres of crops do you raise? We farm about 575 acres.

What quality and quantity do you harvest of each crop? We harvest 250 acres of corn, 180 acres of alfalfa, 100 acres of soybeans and 40-50 acres of grass. I shoot for a relative forage quality of 170-180 for haylage. I have 120 acres of corn silage and always try to get the best quality I can within reason. The growing year dictates the starch content, but my ideal starch level would be 40%. I shoot for 68%-70% moisture. I don’t feed brown midrib corn. It’s a finicky crop that requires a lot of babysitting.

Describe the rations for your livestock. Milk cows receive a total mixed ration consisting of 50% corn silage and 50% haylage, soybeans and high-moisture corn. I only feed one ration to both pens of cows — there is no high group or low group. Instead, I separate cows by age, with younger cows in one pen and older cows in the other. Dry cows get mature grass, corn silage, a little haylage and minerals. Our dry cow ration is low in potassium and it’s worked well for us. When cows freshen, they go straight from the dry cow ration to the milking ration. I don’t have a transition group, but I’ve had pretty good luck doing that. Feeding the right minerals and the right feed to dry cows is key. For youngstock, I’d rather have them on a grass mix versus pure alfalfa from the time they are weaned until 6 months of age. 

Describe your harvesting techniques for alfalfa and corn silage. I hire a custom operator to harvest our haylage and silage. All the hay is cut in one day, and by the next day, they are done chopping. Hay is cut with a triple mower, and then it lies for 20-24 hours before it is merged and chopped. I don’t do the hay-in-a-day thing. I like to go for tonnage with first-crop hay to give me the quantity I need and the ability to blend. I find that 28-day cutting intervals make good feed for second- through fourth-crop hay. When making corn silage, the chopper has a kernel processor, and we pile, pack and cover as soon as possible. 

What techniques do you use to store, manage and feed your forages? Our forages are stored in drive-over piles. The biggest improvement we made was going from bags to drive-over piles for storing feed. It’s not because I didn’t like the quality with bags; it’s that I get a more consistent feed with the piles because everything is blended. You can also make the pile as big or as small as you need to. The flexibility and ability to size properly are what I like about piles. Piles make nice, easy feeding. I cover the piles with a 6-millimeter vapor barrier and sprinkle gravel around it to create a good seal. I don’t have much waste at all. 

Throughout your career, have you changed the forages you plant, and how has that decision helped your operation? We tend to plant the same forages but always shoot for something with a softer kernel. We’ve had success doing it this way and haven’t seen the need to change forages.

Describe a challenge you overcame in reaching your forage quality goals. Weather is the biggest challenge. We have a lot of lower ground, and in a wet year, we suffer. Last year, we had awesome crops because it was dry. We can get away with an inch of rain per month. But when you get six inches of rain in three weeks like we did this year, that’s way too much. We’re going to be late with chopping hay, but it will all even out. 

How do quality forages play a part in the production goals for your herd? Consistent feed is important for maintaining production goals. I don’t push for super-high production. We run in the low to mid 80s for pounds of milk per cow per day and a little above 4% for butterfat. Good feed is what it comes down to. The better haylage you have, the less protein you have to feed. And the higher the starch in your corn, the less corn you have to feed. Moving into the new barn also made a big difference in production. 

What are management or harvesting techniques you have changed that have made a notable difference in forage quality? Many years ago, we didn’t have a kernel processor on the chopper. Adding that was a huge benefit. Before we started feeding a total mixed ration in 2011, we just slug-fed corn, so it didn’t have to be as fine. Now, the finer the corn we can get, the better off we are. It blends better in a wet mix and improves intake and digestibility for the cow.  


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