The test results are back —so what do they mean?

Test results should drive a feeding program, but you need to know what the numbers signify

Interpreting forage test results can sometimes be like trying to read a foreign language.

But there’s a new translation tool — the aptly named ‘A Tool for Evaluating Feed Test Results.’

Karin Schmid.
photo: Supplied

“The tool is designed to take feed test results and compare them to basic nutrition rules of thumb for different classes of cattle,” said Karin Schmid, a production specialist with Alberta Beef Producers who helped create the tool with the Alberta Beef, Forage and Grazing Centre.

Producers can input feed test results into the analyzer, and then select the class of cattle (such as heifers or cows) that will be fed the forage. Next, select the stage of production (bred, open, or lactating, for example) and plug in the results.

The analyzer will then highlight certain boxes (red, yellow, or green) depending on how well they meet the animal’s requirements at the stage of production.

“The intent is to flag any major problems with a particular feed,” said Schmid. “So then the producer is driven to look at other resources for ration balancing — such as talking with a nutritionist or using CowBytes — to make sure the overall ration matches.

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“It’s just intended to draw attention to areas that could be a potential concern that they should explore more.”

The challenge with test results is they give you numbers — but don’t say what numbers are going to meet nutritional requirements for different classes of cattle during different stages of production.

“When you get your feed test results back, you look at the list of numbers and there is no context provided as to a particular TDN being good, bad, or indifferent for what you intend to use it for,” she said. “So this is designed around providing context.”

There are plenty of resources out there to make sure rations are balanced, Schmid added.

“But what we were finding is that producers would get their feed test results back, look at it, and file it in a drawer somewhere without actually using that information to make better decisions,” she said.

“This is just intended to highlight some areas that might need some further work.”

The tool will be available this spring on the Beef Cattle Research Council’s website (go to the Resources section). That section of the website has numerous decision-making tools and calculators for beef production.

About the author

Contributor

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.

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