Importance Of Testing Your Livestock Feed

While winter may seem like a long way off, now is the time to start testing your feed as you inventor the amount you have to get you through the winter months. Winter feed costs, on average, account for 65-70% of production costs for a cow-calf operation. Having a feed analysis done will allow you to match your available feed options with your animal’s nutrient requirements in a cost-effective manner. Feeding in excess of your animal’s nutrient requirements is not only cost inefficient, it also isn’t beneficial to your livestock’s performance or production. Feeding below nutrient requirements can result in deficiencies that can negatively impact both reproduction and performance and ultimately your bottom line. Conducting a feed analysis to correctly match available feed to animal requirements is one of the best returns on investment for managing costs.

How should I collect a feed sample? Hay or silage from the same field, cutting, or harvested within 48 hours should be considered a “lot”. Multiple samples from a lot should be taken, mixed together, and then a subsample of that should be taken to provide a representative sample for analysis. When sampling hay, samples should be taken using a hay probe and collected from a minimum of 10% of the lot. Core samples on round bales are best taken on the rounded side, while samples taken from square bales are best taken from the small end. Hay probes are available here at the Extension Office for you to check out and use. Silage can be sampled prior to or after the fermentation process. A sample of fresh cut silage should be taken from each truck or load. After the fermentation process is complete, multiple samples should be taken from different areas of the pile. If sampling a TMR, several hand grab samples should be collected from along your bunk line. Again, all samples from a lot should be mixed together and a subsample should be taken from that composite sample to be analyzed.

What analyses should I have done? In general, dry matter (DM), fiber (ADF and NDF), protein (CP), and energy measured as total digestible nutrients (TDN) for forage diets and Net Energy (NE) for high concentrate diets, cover the basis of nutrients needed to determine feed quality. Often, labs will offer feed analysis packages that include multiple of these nutrients. As always, having a nitrate test on cereal forages, corn, millet, sorghum, sudangrass, and sorghum-sudan hybrids is important. Deciding which nutrients to analyze and where to send the sample can be difficult. The Richland Extension Office is available to help you with all of your forage testing and interpretation needs. Stop by the office, call 406-433-1206, or email [email protected].


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