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Alfalfa-Grass Management to Maximize Milk Production in Dairy Cattle

Grant Program: OAR
Agricultural Sectors: Dairy, Livestock
Region: Statewide
Project Duration: 4/1/2015 - 3/31/2017
Amount Awarded: $82,388.00
Lead Organization: Cornell University
Other Organizations: CCE Cortland County, CCE Delaware County, CCE Niagara County, CCE Washington County
Project Leader: Debbie Cherney
Co-Leaders: Debbie Cherney, Jerry Cherney
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Proposal Abstract

One of the more common complaints from farmers about alfalfa-grass stands in the Northeast is that the grass component is typically too aggressive, resulting in a higher than desired percentage of grass in mixed stands early in the life of the stand. There is a need for a less competitive grass with good forage quality, to use in alfalfa-grass mixtures. We will work with NY dairy farmers across the state utilizing Cornell campus personnel, as well as field crop resource educators. Best management practices for alfalfa-grass stands will be developed to address the primary limitations: 1) Appropriate selection of grass species and variety, and 2) Timely harvest of these variable mixtures. We will address the selection of grass species and variety with on-farm research trials, and address timely harvest management using a new tool for quality assessment of mixed stands. On-farm testing and verification of the new Alfalfa-Grass Evaluation System tool (AGES) will be done on 10 farms in the first project year, sampling other farms to determine harvested forage quality without our system. Farmers will be trained in the use of the new tool at research site field days, was well as workshops and winter extension meetings. Cooperating farmers will receive worksheets for recording their management decisions and the resulting forage quality achieved from each field. Since the direct effect of fiber digestibility on milk production has been quantified, we can estimate the potential increase in milk production from applying our management system. Although we will be working with a subset of NY dairy farmers in this project, the best management practices and tools demonstrated here will be immediately useable by all dairy farmers in NYS.

Final Report Summary Statement

Higher fiber digestibility of forage will directly translate to increased milk production. As little as a 1 percentage unit increase in fiber digestibility increases milk production at least 0.5 to 1.0 lbs milk/cow/day. We have documented that reduced-lignin alfalfa averages 6 percentage units higher in fiber digestibility than normal alfalfa, and meadow fescue averages 10 percentage units higher in fiber digestibility than other grass species. Both reduced-lignin alfalfa and meadow fescue have higher forage quality primarily due to lower lignin content. Adoption of reduced-lignin alfalfa and meadow fescue should significantly increase milk production. Increased use of these perennial forage species also directly benefits farm sustainability goals.

Project Impact Data

Producers Participating: 16

Producers Advising: 2

Research/Extension Employed: 0.25

Potential Industry Impact: $5,200,000.00

Articles/Publications: 10

Presentations: 26

Total Producers Engaged: 1192

Leveraged Funds: $231,789.00

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