It’s never too late to feed test

There’s ‘no substitute’ for knowing the precise energy, protein, 
and nutrient content of your feed, says a provincial specialist

Lamb next to barbed wire fence
Reading Time: 2 minutes

If cattle feed supplies are starting to get low and pastures need more time before turning cattle out, a provincial beef extension specialist recommends doing feed tests on remaining feed.

“The more you know about what you are working with for feed values, the more accurate you will be targeting the animals’ nutrition and ensuring you aren’t wasting a very valuable resource,” said Andrea Hanson. “While visual assessment of the feed is one indicator of forage quality, there is no substitute for a feed test to know what the feed contains for energy, protein, et cetera. When you know these values, you can feed your cattle accordingly. A $30 (basic) to $75 (more nutrients analyzed) feed test could save hundreds of dollars if you are looking at buying extra feed this spring.”

Lactating cows and ewes need more energy and protein to supply the milk for their offspring as well as to flush and be ready for rebreeding in a timely manner. With a ewe’s shorter breeding cycle, it is more costly to feed to increase body condition score than to maintain it, said Susan Hosford, a sheep industry specialist. Young lambs are incredibly efficient in converting milk to growth, and that ewe rations in the first eight weeks after lambing should maximize milk production, she said.

“If you are lucky enough to have high-protein alfalfa/grass hay available, by working with a livestock nutritionist you may be able to dilute that feed with some lower-quality feed and still meet all the cows’ nutritional requirements,” said Hanson. “By developing a feeding strategy for your cattle you can stretch your feed supplies further and allow the pastures to develop their root systems for the grazing months ahead.” provides information about sampling feed, suggesting what feed tests to request based on what needs to be known, interpreting the feed test and then balancing a ration. Hanson also recommends CowBytes, a software program available for purchase at

“By spending a few dollars now to pinpoint the nutritional values of the forages you have left you may save a lot of extra feed, fertility and dollars in the future,” said Hanson.

About the author

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry's recent articles



Stories from our other publications