Improved management for high quality, advances in equipment, and innovations related to bale silage and other storage options have made grass silage an attractive option for dairy farmers. Grass that cannot be harvested in a timely fashion may be utilized as biomass or bedding [GIS-35]. Grasses also have significant nutrient management benefits, particularly regarding manure management [GIS-36]. While species and cultivar selection as well as fertilization issues are important, harvest management will determine the success or failure of grass silage as high producing dairy cow forage.
Grass species and cultivar evaluation should be focused on maximum yield at optimum silage quality. A harvest date target based on optimum forage NDF for the class of livestock being fed is the goal. A three-cut management is suggested for much of the Northeast, with the first two cuts taken at optimum NDF, followed by a fall cut for dry cow forage. With appropriate fertilization and a two-cut harvest management, any grass stand can be specifically managed to produce low potassium forage for non-lactating cows.
New tall fescue cultivars should be seriously considered for dairy systems in the northern USA, particularly those that combine grazing with silage options. The benefit of novel endophyte cultivars for the Northeast, however, has yet to be shown. Much of the alfalfa sown in the Northeast is sown in mixture with perennial grasses, such mixtures should lead to a better balance of ration ingredients to maximize total intake. A proper balance of grass and non-fibrous carbohydrates in the diet should increase intake and maximize milk production. In summary, high quality perennial grasses can fit well in the rations of high producing dairy cows.
Perennial grass is well suited to the Northeast climate and soils. Timely harvest management will determine it success or failure as high producing dairy cow forage.