Know what you have for livestock feed and use it strategically

You’ll need higher-quality feed later on, and the last thing you want to do is overfeed

When planning your feeding program, keep the good stuff for later.

“Using higher-quality feed early in the season could mean it is not available later in the season when the cows really need it,” said livestock extension specialist Andrea Hanson. “It could get costly for the operation, either by increasing feed costs or reducing cow fertility.”

With supplies tight in many areas, it’s critical to test feed.

“Overfeeding is wasting dollars,” she said. “Conversely, if the animal’s nutrient requirements aren’t being met, it can negatively affect their immediate well-being and future reproductive efficiency.”

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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 using a provincial average for a feed’s nutritional content, is not realistic or useful,” said 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 does not tell much more than that.

“Protein and energy content of the same hayfield can vary greatly depending on when it was cut. Brome cut very early in the year could reach 18 per cent protein while that same forage may only be five to six per cent protein if cut late.”

Protein requirements of a cow change depending on where she is in her pregnancy.

“A minimum of seven per cent protein is needed in the second trimester while in the third trimester, nine per cent protein is needed,” said beef and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio. “She requires 11 per cent protein when lactating.”

A basic forage analysis will list moisture content, energy as total digestible nutrients (TDN), net energy (NE) and/or digestible energy (DE), and crude protein values as well as calcium, 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,” said Hanson. “The more advanced analytical packages will provide more details about the feed depending on what is 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.”

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