Alfalfa shines again in Forage Expo
Wheatland – At the 25th anniversary of the World’s Forage Analysis Superbowl in Madison, Wisc., Wyoming entries garnered five of the top six placings in the commercial hay category.
Hay entered by the Hinman family of Wheatland took first in the division, while the Schlenker Ranch, Inc. of Meeteetse took third, the Kossert brothers of Casper took fourth, Ervin Gara of Torrington placed fifth and Wambolt Cattle Co. of Torrington took sixth.
According to contest officials, there were 241 entries this year, 59 more than last year, in six categories – dairy hay, dairy haylage, standard corn silage, brown midrib (BMR) corn silage, commercial hay and commercial baleage. First-place prize for each category is one year’s free use of a forage harvesting or feeding piece of equipment or $2,500 to 5,000 in coupons toward purchase of new equipment.
“We had entries from 24 states and the bulk of states where dairy production is significant,” says University of Wisconsin agronomist and contest organizer Dan Undersander. “On quality, we had some of the highest relative forage quality numbers that we’ve seen in a long time.”
Commercial samples are judged 70 percent on lab analysis and 30 percent on visual appraisal. “The visual judging includes an assessment of color, texture, maturity and leafiness, according to category,” notes Undersander. “We want to make sure each sample is handled in a typical fashion for its category.”
Scott Keith of the Wyoming Business Council, who accompanies Wyoming’s entries to Wisconsin each year, says it was an excellent show, with more people in attendance than ever. “I had a busier display this year than I’ve ever had, with an unbelievable the number of people stopping by,” he says, adding he handed out over 450 business cards.
Dave Hinman says the contest is a great opportunity to promote Wyoming hay, and after last year’s show he shipped 25 loads of hay back to Kentucky and Ohio.
This year wasn’t the first the Hinmans have experienced success at the show. In the last two years they’ve won the division for first-time entries and last year received second place in the commercial hay division.
“I grew up in Nebraska and farmed with my dad and brother, and we didn’t know how to put up quality alfalfa,” says Dave of his early haying years. “I came up here near Wheatland and alfalfa was a different story. I learned how to put up dairy quality hay through correct timing and moisture.”
“We start cutting right at bud and try to cut every 28 to 30 days after that, depending on weather,” he explains, adding that baling quality hay relates mostly to timing. “Mother Nature has to help you along the way with the right heat and rain and dew.”
Dave says they get all the hay completely dry, then bale with dew moisture and no stem moisture at all. “That makes the leaf retention better and it stores a lot better,” he says.
Today the Hinmans produce primarily large square bales of alfalfa for the dairy market, but Dave’s wife Teri also bales some small squares for the local horse market. Dave and Teri’s daughter Kellie recently returned to the farm after college in Nebraska, and she now helps with the family’s hay and cattle operation and has also begun breeding and selling club calves off the ranch.
Dave says this fall the dairy hay market for alfalfa testing over 180 is exceptional, because there isn’t much around. “Anything over 180 is bringing a $1 to $1.20 per point, depending on where it’s tested. Testing is the critical thing because there are a lot of variables with the places you test,” he says, noting that forage testing is one thing that needs to be standardized.
This spring some of the Hinman’s stands are due for reseeding, and Dave says he’s sticking with the same varieties he’s used for many years. “I was talked into planting the one I’m winning with now, and it won the Forage Superbowl in the late 1990s. It’s a Garst 630 variety, and that and the 631 variety are really leafy, so those are the two I’m still entering, and they test really well,” he says, adding that he tries to produce something that will test well and also be really leafy and fine-stemmed.
Of entering the forage contest for the last several years, Dave says competition is a thing in which he’s been involved since grade school. “I began by entering contests with produce when I was young, and I competed through 4-H. I like contests and choosing the best product I have and seeing how we stand up to the industry,” he says. In addition to the forage contest he also enters a national corn yield competition each year.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.