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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Archives » Newsletters and Research Summaries » Updates/Newsletters » Winter 2017 Newsletter

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Welcome to the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center (USDFRC) Update, a quarterly message to keep stakeholders informed about Center research, accomplishments, and activities. This Update features highlights from December 2016 to March 2017.

/ARSUserFiles/50901500/Newsletters/2017Winter/current research highlights_680 pixels.pngAlternative Forages

One of the “big picture” goals at the USDFRC is to increase the amount of forages in dairy cattle diets without affecting milk production or milk production efficiency. Potentially there are many ways this could be accomplished, so the “big picture” must be built from several smaller pictures, including a better understanding of alternative forages and how they can be combined in rations to bring about the desired result.

Sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass are alternative forages that use less water, are high in digestibility, and are already being grown in drier regions of the U.S. or as emergency forages. The USDFRC chose to study these grasses from both an agronomic perspective and a dairy cattle diet perspective. Preliminary studies show that sorghum-sudangrass performs better with a single harvest, and sudangrass performs better with multiple harvests, including grazing; and up to 10% of corn silage and alfalfa haylage in dairy cattle diets can be replaced with sudangrass silage with no detrimental effect on milk production.  Click here to continue article.

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On January 17 and 18, USDFRC employees and UW colleagues gathered at the USDFRC for the semiannual Mission Area Community meetings. These meetings were started by Center Director Mark Boggess to encourage the entire scientific staff to discuss issues in the dairy, forage, and environmental arenas, regardless of whether the issues are directly related to their research. The meetings are designed to foster outside-the-box thinking about possible solutions for challenges facing the dairy forage industry.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist at the University of California, Davis, provided a keynote address and helped facilitate the discussions. Other speakers included Dr. Valentin Picasso who is an Agronomist with the University of Wisconsin working in the areas of forages, grazing systems, agroecology, and sustainable agriculture.

/ARSUserFiles/50901500/Newsletters/2017Winter/photo place holder_MAC mtg_695 pixels.pngCollaborations

On December 3-4, J. Mark Powell attended the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS) meeting in Melbourne, Australia. INMS is a science-policy support process that brings together people, information, approaches, indicators, cost-benefit analysis, regional demonstration, etc., as a basis to support governments and others through international nitrogen policy processes. He also presented a paper, “Substitutions of corn silage, alfalfa silage, and corn grain in cow rations impact N use and N loss from dairy farms” at the 7th International Nitrogen Initiative Conference, December 4-8.

At the end of December, Heathcliffe Riday completed a 3-year term as an Associate Editor for Crop Science. In January of 2016 he received a Citation of Excellence related to his service for the same journal.

On February 14 and 15, Mark Powell worked with co-authors at Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, IL to complete the draft manuscript, “Sustainable Forage and Grain Crop Production for the U.S. Dairy Industry.” This manuscript is part of the Dairy 2050 series.


On January 11, Mark Borchardt’s presentation, “Aerial irrigation of dairy manure and risk of microbial infections,” was given by Becky Larson to about 125 producers, farm consultants, and industry reps at the Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic (hosted by UW CALS, UW Extension, Wis. Ag Business Assn.) in Madison, WI. Borchardt was unable to attend the meeting due to a snow storm.

On January 11, John Grabber presented “Establishing alfalfa in silage corn” to about 125 producers, farm consultants, and industry reps at the Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic in Madison, WI.

On January 12, J. Mark Powell presented “Nitrogen cycling on Wisconsin dairy farms” to about 125 producers, farm consultants, and industry reps at the Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic in Madison, WI.

On January 12, Wayne Coblentz presented “Hay preservatives and cutting management for maximum quality” to about 60 producers and industry reps at the Southwest Hay and Forage Conference in Ruidoso, NM.

On January 24-25, Wayne Coblentz participated in Symposium ’17 Hosted by the Midwest Forage Association, the Wisconsin Custom Operators, and the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin in Wisconsin Dells, WI. He gave a presentation, “Making the most of your baleage,” to 40 producers and custom operators. He also gave a brief update on a research project, “Interaction of bale size and preservative rate for large round bales of alfalfa hay.”

On February 6, Geoffrey Zanton gave a presentation, “Opportunities and challenges of applying recent advances in dairy cattle nutrition to beef cattle nutrition,” to about 40 industry professionals, educators, students, and researchers at the American Society of Animal Science Southern Section meeting in Franklin, TN.

On February 9, Wayne Coblentz gave two presentations at the Alabama Farmer’s Federation Commodity Organizational Meeting. He presented “Forage Management” to 15 producers at the dairy producers commodity group, and “Post-harvest Hay Management” to 40 producers at the hay and forage growers commodity group.

On February 22, Mark Borchardt presented “Dairy manure and human Wastewater contamination in the dolomite aquifer in Northeastern Wisconsin” to about 100 dairy producers and industry professionals at the Midwest Manure Summit in Green Bay, WI. At the same meeting, Tucker Burch presented “Assessment of human health risk due to airborne pathogens during spray irrigation of dairy manure.”

On February 23, Mark Powell gave a guest lecture, “Feed and herd management impacts on nutrient cycles of dairy farms,” to 40 students of the University of Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy & Livestock Farmers in Madison, WI.

On March 8, Wayne Coblentz gave a presentation in Kimberly, WI, at a UW Extension conference about raising quality dairy heifers. His talk, “Heifer stocking density and performance,” reached 50 dairy producers.

On March 14, Paul Weimer presented “Host specificity of the rumen microbial community and its relation to feed efficiency” to researchers and educators at the Midwest Section meeting of the American Dairy Science Association in Omaha, NE.

Popular Press Articles

There were six articles in various agricultural trade journals from December through March, including:

Link to copies of all articles. 

/ARSUserFiles/50901500/Newsletters/2017Winter/photo place holder_staff changes_695 pixels.pngNovember 2016

Jane Marita retired after 15 years at the USDFRC working in Ron Hatfield’s lab. Jane was a Category 3 PhD scientist who was a major contributor to helping USDFRC scientists understand forage cell wall chemistry and biochemistry as it relates to utilization by dairy cows. She had a major responsibility for maintaining the NMR facility, including helping others analyze their samples. In her last 4 years at the Center, Jane organized a biweekly “Feds Feed Families” brat fry that raised money and food for local food pantries. Jane purchased the meat and buns with her personal funds, grilled the food, and asked only for food pantry donations in exchange for the grilled brat or chicken. Jane always provided help to anyone who needed an extra hand. Sadly, Jane died from ALS on February 3, 2017.

Shan Betzold, a UW employee, was hired as the dairy herd manager at the Prairie du Sac farm in November. A native of Amery, WI, he grew up on a farm and received an MBA from the University of Guelph. Before coming to the USDFRC, Shan managed 3,600- and 4,600-cow milking herds in Russia, worked as a nutrition consultant for Vita Plus, was the financial controller for a multi-site 12,000-head dairy in South Dakota, and managed a 500-head dairy in Russia. Before going to Russia for the first time, he owned a 150-cow dairy in Emerald, WI, with his wife Nancy, a previous herd manager at the USDFRC. 


December 2016

Adam Wallenfang began as Tucker Burch’s biological science technician at the Marshfield location in December. Adam grew up in Peoria, IL, and received a BS in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He then earned a MS in Molecular Microbiology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Prior to joining the USDFRC team, Adam worked as an ARS technician in Peoria, IL, Fargo, ND, and Beltsville, MD. His research topics include health, bioenergy, ecology, agriculture, and genetics. And he has taught community college courses in biology, microbiology, and chemistry.


January 2017

Kevin Panke-Buisse began his duties as an Animal Geneticist/Microbiologist at the Madison location. A native of Wisconsin, Kevin received a BA in biology from Carthage College in 2010 and a PhD in Horticulture from Cornell University in 2015. At Cornell he focused on harnessing microbial diversity to modulate complex plant host and soil interactions. At the USDFRC Kevin is incorporating novel methods of microbial selection and manipulation to better understand microbiome-agroecosystem interactions. Specifically, he is focusing on the assembly of functional microbiomes to improve silage for dairy nutrition and to reduce waste and the environmental impact of dairy systems.

On January 25, Michael Casler received the Medallion Award from the American Forage and Grasslands Council (AFGC) at the AFGC Annual Conference in Roanoke, VA. Michael was awarded AFGC’s highest honor not only for his prolific research and publication record, but for mentoring numerous plant breeding and genetics graduate students, providing research experience to undergraduate students not typically majoring in agricultural sciences, and assisting colleagues with statistical analysis of a wide range of experiments. His dedication to mentoring activities has contributed to the career advancement of countless individuals.

On January 25, Lori Bocher received the 2016 Outstanding Service Award from the Midwest Forage Association (MFA). The award was given in recognition of her being a contributing editor to the MFA’s Forage Focus publication for almost a decade, coordinating a USDFRC article for each issue along with providing cover photos and research updates. According to the article in the March Forage Focus, “Lori has been a dedicated public servant who is very unselfish with her time and expertise, and, therefore, in recognition of her dedication to MFA and the alfalfa and forage industry as a whole, MFA proudly presented Lori Bocher with its 2016 Outstanding Service Award.”


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Alternative Forages, cont. from top


In the field: The objective of the agronomic study (Brink) was to compare yield and regrowth potential of BMR sudangrass and BMR sorghum-sudangrass grown at two locations. At Prairie du Sac in south central Wisconsin, plots were seeded on June 6, 2016, and harvested on July 25 and September 19. At Marshfield in central Wisconsin, plots were seeded on June 8 and harvested on August 4 and October 6.

At the more southern location, forage yield of sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass were relatively equal for the first and second harvest period because the climate is conducive to growth of both warm season grasses. At the more northern location, sorghum-sudangrass had higher yield potential than sudangrass for the first harvest period, but lower yield potential for the second harvest period. At the more southern location, both sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass had a higher regrowth potential compared to the more northern location; regrowth will be better the farther south the crop is planted.

The USDFRC will be conducting a similar study in 2017. But the take-home message from this first year of data can be summarized as follows. If a producer wants multiple harvests, as in a grazing system, sudangrass has higher yield potential because of its improved regrowth. But if a producer wants maximum yield with a single harvest, such as when used as an emergency forage crop or as a replacement for corn silage, sorghum-sudangrass has higher yield potential.

In the diet: The objective of the dietary study (Kalscheur) was to evaluate the replacement of corn silage and alfalfa haylage with increasing concentrations of sudangrass silage in the diets of lactating dairy cows. Sudangrass was chosen for the study because there is less research on it compared to sorghum-sudangrass and sorghum. A brown mid-rib (BMR) sudangrass variety was chosen for the feeding trial because of its higher digestibility.

In the study, 48 Holstein cows in mid-lactation were assigned to treatments in a randomized complete block design. Diets were formulated to contain 40% corn silage, 20% alfalfa haylage, and 40% concentrate. Sudangrass silage was included in experimental diets at 0, 10, 20, and 30% of the diet dry matter. Proportionally, sudangrass silage replaced two parts corn silage and one part alfalfa haylage. All other ingredients (high moisture corn, canola meal, roasted soybeans, soyhulls, and minerals and vitamins) were included equally for all diets, and crude protein levels were similar for all diets.

As expected, dry matter intake (DMI) decreased linearly as sudangrass silage replaced corn silage and alfalfa silage. Similarly, milk production decreased from 95 pounds/day for cows fed 0% sudangrass silage to 86 pounds/day for cows fed 30% sudangrass silage. However, even though DMI decreased from the 0% sudangrass ration to the 10% ration, pounds of milk produced stayed nearly the same (95.0 and 94.8 pounds/day), and energy corrected milk (ECM) increased slightly (99.0 and 100.8 pounds/day).

Feed efficiency, defined as ECM/DMI, was not affected by changes in forage because milk production changes and DMI changes were the same. While it was expected that increased digestibility of the BMR sudangrass (compared to regular sudangrass) silage would benefit the dairy cow, it is possible that the increased fiber in the sudangrass diets limited intake resulting in a linear decrease in milk production.

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Percent sudangrass silage in the diet






DMI, lb/day





Milk, lb/day





ECM, lb/day










* Measure of feed efficiency