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  • Emily Potter, NOFIA Project Development Advisor

Forage Focus 2018

NOFIA was proud to sponsor 4 remote locations in Northern Ontario for the Ontario Forage Council’s Forage Focus this year in Bruce Mines, Earlton, Emo and Iroquois Falls. 50 participants from across the north were able to take part in the event, thanks to web conferencing.

The day featured Christine O’Reilly (OMAFRA Forage & Grazier Specialist), Alltech rep Brent Corrigan, Doug Johnston from Maplevue Farms (the 2017 OSCIA Forage Master), Christine Brown (OMAFRA Manure Management Specialist), and keynote speaker Mike Hutjens (Professor Emeritus, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois). Topics included looking at the economics behind forages and things that farmers can be doing to maximize their profitability when using forages. Here are a few of the take-aways from the day:


Getting your soil tested will give you a better idea of what is available for the plants in the soil. There could be a certain nutrient that is limiting the full potential of the forage crop in the field. For example, alfalfa uses more boron from the soil than other crops, so this could be a limiting factor. Soil testing can be done at any time of the year, but getting it done during the fall gives you more time to make management decisions in time for spring planting. The soil analysis will give you a better idea of what kind of fertilizer is needed for that field, as well as which legume and grass species would be most suited in the soil.

2. Manage Your Forage Stand

Managing your forage fields properly will help you maximize the quality of feed you produce. When establishing forages, you want to aim for 30-40 plants per square foot. By year 3 of the stand, if there are less than 5 plants/ft2, it’s time to re-seed that field.

Cutting height is another factor. The growing point on grasses and legumes are at different heights, so it’s best to cut the crop no lower than 3 inches from the ground, to protect the growing point. Timing of harvest also plays a role. Harvesting at the pre-bud and bud growth stages is really stressful on alfalfa and can greatly reduce the life-span of that particular forage stand.

Proper forage storage is necessary to maintain quality. If using bunkers, it’s important that aeration is minimized and pH is maintained, otherwise heating and mould growth can occur. If you start noticing “off” smells or colours, something is not right. Taking samples will help you ensure that you are storing your forages properly. If mycotoxins are an issue, you can take samples at harvest time to help you make bunk management decisions. The same principals can be applied to wrapped silage or hay.


A recent Northern Ontario cow-calf beef production benchmarking study showed that out of 80 beef producers, only 16% were lab testing their forages. Everyone should be testing their forages! This allows you to know what you are feeding your livestock and helps you to make better management decisions, whether it be how you manage, harvest and store your forages or how you feed your livestock. For example, knowing your forage quality can help you stretch your feed out over a longer period of time if you choose to feed lower quality feed to your better conditioned animals and save the higher quality feed for the ones closer to calving or that need to add body condition.

Here is a list of labs in Ontario that will test your soil and feed samples:

4. Minimize Soil Contamination

If your feed tests are coming back with ash results higher than 9%, you have soil contamination issues. This can be avoided by harvesting before the plants start lodging, decreasing field traffic, and cutting no lower than 3 inches to keep the windrows from being right on the ground.

5. Use Your Forage Analysis Results!

The last take-away from Forage Focus was the importance of knowing what your forage analysis results mean and how you can use that information to make better use of your rations. Forages need to be tested every year because the quality will change from year to year and between cuttings, and will have an impact on the dry matter intake and production. The main things to look at on a forage analysis are dry matter intake, crude protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), calcium, phosphorus, macro and trace minerals, and the dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD). A nutritionist can help you understand your results and make changes to your management strategies on-farm.

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