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Forage Testing Saves Money

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By: Mike Boersma, Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Murray & Pipestone Counties

Forages are a major dietary component for many species of livestock. With widespread drought for the past couple of years and a slow start to the spring growing season, forages are in short supply. This shortage has translated to record-setting prices this spring.

With forages becoming a very valuable commodity, testing hay and silages for nutrient content becomes critical. Matching the nutrient content of forages with the animals' nutrient requirements is equally important.

When testing forages, it is important to remember that the results are only as accurate as the sample submitted. When sampling bales of hay, it is best to take core samples from a large number of bales, mix the samples, and then collect a sub-sample for submission to the lab.

Also, collect samples that will best represent the entire bale. Core samples should be taken from a cross-section of the bale. This means the corer should enter the rounded side of round bales or the end of square bales. Also, select bales from various locations within a row or pile to ensure the most accurate representation of the entire lot of hay. Finally, if possible, analyze separate samples for each cutting of hay, as each cutting will be harvested at a slightly different stage of maturity and under varying conditions.

When sampling silages, it is again important to select representative samples. Obtain multiple samples and sample each storage structure (bunker, pile, bag, etc.) separately.

Once testing results have been obtained, using this information to accurately meet animal requirements, without over-feeding and wasting an expensive resource, can save money. Producers should work closely with their nutritionist to accurately determine nutrient requirements of their livestock.

The University of Minnesota Extension has valuable tools that will also assist in this process for beef producers, specifically. The U of M Beef Cow Ration Balancer is available for free download at http://z.umn.edu/cowbalancer. This tool includes valuable information for feeding the beef cow herd and includes a table of nutrient requirements and information on assessing the body condition score of the animals in the herd. The second tool available is the U of M Feedlot Ration Balancer, available at http://z.umn.edu/feedlotbalancer. Here, producers will find information to assist in meeting nutrient requirements of growing calves for backgrounding or feedlot situations.

Performing a nutrient analysis on your forages is the best way to know what you are feeding. With today's high prices, the potential cost associated with not meeting the animals' needs or over-feeding expensive nutrients is much greater than the costs associated with obtaining an accurate forage test. For more information on forage testing, contact your local Extension office.

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