Originally published October 9, 2017 on Alberta Agriculture & Forestry
Doing feed tests now, at the start of the feeding season, will allow producers to develop a feeding strategy to ensure all categories of cattle in the herd are fed to their production goals and extra costs are avoided.
“Livestock feed supplies are going to be tight in some areas of Alberta, while in other areas, quality may be an issue,” says Andrea Hanson, beef extension specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF). “As such, testing feed stuffs that are to be fed this winter is important as you need to know what nutrients are available. When feed costs are the largest variable expense of over wintering a beef cow, over feeding is wasting dollars and, conversely, if the animal’s nutrient requirements aren’t being met, it can negatively affect their immediate well-being and future reproductive efficiency.”
The formulation of a ration depends on the nutrient composition of the forage, and the only way to accurately determine the forage’s nutrient composition is by sampling and testing the feed.
“Using last year’s feed tests, or even worse, using a provincial average for a feed’s nutritional content, isn’t realistic or useful,” says Hanson. “While physical attributes are part of feed quality, they don’t tell the whole story. A bright green colour does help indicate the feed was put up with little or no rain, and that the mould level is little to none, but it doesn’t tell much more than that. Protein and energy content of the same hay field can vary greatly depending on when it was cut. Brome cut very early in the year could reach 18% protein while that same forage may only be 5-6% protein if cut late. Barry Yaremcio, who’s the forage/beef specialist at AF, says that the protein requirements of a cow in second trimester of pregnancy (minimum of 7%) is significantly different than when she reaches the third trimester (9%) or lactation (11%).”
The most important information in a feed test, says Hanson, is protein, energy and fibre. “A basic forage analysis will list the moisture content of the feed stuff, energy as total digestible nutrients (TDN), net energy (NE) and/or digestible energy (DE), crude protein values as well as calcium, and phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. A basic analysis should cost less than $50 which is much less than the cost of a round bale of feed, let alone the possible savings from using fewer bales of hay mixed with lower quality forages. The more advanced analytical packages will provide more details about the feed depending on what’s requested. If an early frost or crop stress has been experienced in the area, and there are concerns, a nitrate test may be very beneficial as would a toxin test.”
Getting a representative sample of the feed to test is important in feeling confident with the analysis, says Hanson. “If sampling bales, samples need to be taken from a number of bales (at least 15-20) from different areas in the field and then mixed into one sample. Using a commercial forage sampler makes the process much easier, and often local agriculture service boards or forage associations have equipment available for loan.
“Use plastic bags to ship the feed so that an accurate moisture level can be determined. If sampling from a silage pit, rub the loose material off the face before taking the sample from packed material from the freshest part of the silage face, and from several locations in a ‘W’ or ‘M’ pattern. Mix the samples and pack tightly into a plastic bag with as little air as possible. If the samples won’t get to the lab right away, freeze to prevent any change to the silage characteristics. Finally, if you want a sample of the swath grazing feed, take a tub and scissors out to the field and pull various samples from the swath from locations all over the field. As the samples are pulled, cut the feed into two inch lengths and mix in the tub. From the total sample, stuff a large zip-lock bag with a representative sample of the feed for analysis.”
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, together with forage and research associations, is hosting a series of workshops the weeks of October 23 and 30. “Entitled Tools to Build Your Cow Herd, these day-long workshops will address genetic tools producers can use to achieve their herd’s goals,” says Hanson. “They’ll also look at how to best address the nutritional issues producers have in their area to get the most out of their herd’s potential. For more information on the workshops, go to AF’s webpage or contact your local forage and research association for a workshop in your area.”
Alberta Ag-Info Centre