Q. What does sustainability mean?

WEIGEL: To me sustainability is just being able to stay in business and be competitive on a global basis. Sustainability is whether you’re going to be in business tomorrow. And there’s a whole lot more things that are going to get you out of business than keep you in business. And that’s why you need to look at things proactively. There are ways we can keep good dairymen in business by using good nutrition to maximize performance of the animal.

Q. Who do you recommend dairymen consult about their forages?

WEIGEL: Often times I think everyone thinks we have this magic tool called nutrition. If I were a large-herd dairyman, I’d have a team in my toolbox. I’d have a team of good nutritionists, a good veterinarian, a good agronomist and then a good engineer. That would be my team.

Q. How would you suggest producers get more involved in the agronomy part of their business?


WEIGEL: Most of the reputable forage input suppliers – be it the seed industry or the chemical industry – have consultants right on staff that can be accessible. But here’s the key: Just because a dairyman has access to an agronomist, does the dairyman ever think, “I wish that my nutritionist could come at the same time as my agronomist could come then maybe have the two sit down together.” I’ve done that a couple of times, and it has really paid off. When we left the meeting, the agronomist said he’d learned a lot more about nutrition and the nutritionist said he knew more about how agronomy impacted nutrient creation. So teamwork is the big thing.

Q. What’s one thing you’d change about the forage industry?

WEIGEL: We plant millions of acres each year in corn. We have a grading standard established by the government to rate the quantity of a crop. But there isn’t a government regulation or standard that has anything to do with the reason we raise corn to feed livestock – its nutrition and energy value. Ratings on nutrition of the crop isn’t even a factor. We don’t buy on protein or energy. We buy on how fast it fills up the truck. Now is that good or bad for the cow?

I think we need to use near-infrared (NIR) spectrometers on silage choppers. You could be sitting in the cab looking at the nutrition as you are harvesting the product. It’s actually been done, by the way. Then you could say: “This field is really good corn silage, and I want to keep it for my transition cows.” or “This field is not so good. Maybe I need to have another bunker for it so I can feed it to my lactation cows.”

Q. What’s one caution you have for dairy nutritionists?

WEIGEL: Challenge book values for co-products and traditional forage feeding philosophy. For example, people say you can’t feed 35 pounds of dry matter corn silage to a cow that’s only consuming 51 pounds. I say, “Why not?” They say, “Just because.” No one can give you an answer. I was playing with some numbers on Michigan State’s Spartan program, by just going from 26 to 27 pounds of corn silage dry matter to 35 pounds, I could save a dairyman 20 to 25 cents a day. These are big numbers. They say the average dry matter consumption corn silage in the U.S. is about 45 percent. You start going from 45 to 60 percent or even 65 percent, all of a sudden you start getting a chunk of change, even at $4.50 corn. I was actually using $4 corn and $40 corn silage, so I wasn’t playing with some funny corn silage number. PD

Jerry Weigel
BASF Nutrition/Tech Service Managergerald.weigel@basf.com