Native Warm Season Grasses As Alternative Hay Source to Annual Sorghum/Sudan Grasses on Family-Operated Goat Dairy
One of the primary reasons for the disappearance of the family farm is the difficulty of maintaining a cash flow. Modern agriculture tends to be cash intensive but produces low profit margins. Consequently, farmers often have to accept a reduced standard of living in order to keep their farms. Under such financial constraints, farmers who would like to practice environmentally sound farming often feel they can’t afford to try it.
Farmers are always looking for ways to increase income. One alternative is the use of range land to raise meat or dairy goats. Dairy goats provide an array of products including meat, milk, and cheese. The nature of the dairy goat makes participation in all aspects of the dairy possible by family members of all ages. Unfortunately, few small dairy goat operations survive the first five years.
High labor cost is one of the reasons for the poor survival rates. The labor requirements for dairying in general, and for dairy goats in particular, are high. Approximately 12 goats must be milked to yield 100 pounds of milk, but only 1.5 to 2 cows are needed to produce the same amount.
Paradoxically, families who are willing to make the labor commitment to a small scale dairy operation are often under capitalized. One of the cash requirements for a dairy operation is feed. The producer believes the use of perennial grasses will lower feed costs. Once established, perennials eliminate the yearly purchases of seed, yearly tillage costs, chemical herbicides and replanting expenses. Native warm-season perennials are reputed to require less water and fertilizer than annuals and produce more biomass per acre. Due to deep and extensive root systems they are also believed to be quite drought tolerant.
This producer proposes to lower the cost of feed in order to increase the longevity of her small-scale dairy. She will do this by reducing total inputs and by improving the productivity of the land by using native warm-season perennial grass crops as sources of hay for her dairy. She will determine if warm season perennial grasses that mature at successive dates throughout the season will produce more, and better quality, hay for dairy goats than does the currently used sorghum/sudan cross.
The producer planted a thirty-acre plot of sorghum/sudan grass cross. She planned to harvest it and feed it to her dairy goats. She also planted three 10-acre plots with one of the following warm season grasses respectively; Tripsacum dactyloides (eastern gamma grass), Sorghastrum nutans (indian grass) and Panicum virgatum (switch grass). The three warm season grasses will be harvested as hay (in boot stage ) and fed to dairy goats.
The producer will take soil samples from the plots prior to planting and after harvests of all grasses and analyze them for pH, CEC, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and some micronutrients. She will take samples from all hay species and analyze them for yield, protein content, macronutrients and some micronutrients.
She has kept records of monthly sampling of percent butterfat, percent protein and total production, of milk from goats fed the sorghum/sudan cross hay for one lactation cycle (one year) and then hay from the three warm season perennials for one lactation cycle (one year). She will also keep records of costs associated with production of hay from all types of grasses.