Beef Tips

Testing feedstuffs, another tool in the management toolbox

by Justin Waggoner, Beef Systems Specialist, Garden City

Many of the challenge’s cattle producers face are essentially about managing variability. Our management decisions/practices are often dictated by changes in weather, markets, genetics, animal performance and many other factors.  There are a variety of tools that have been created to help cattle producers manage different sources of variability and predict animal performance. Today we often think of complex tools like EPDs or genomic testing. However, simple tools such as body condition scoring and analytical testing of feeds are also tools that should be included in this list. Although it is often overlooked, the underlying reason we evaluate the chemical composition of feedstuffs is to gather data that can be used to more efficiently manage our feed resources and more accurately predict animal performance.

Nutritionist and producers often use average values when discussing feeds and forages (i.e. alfalfa: 55% TDN, 16% Crude Protein).  Feedstuffs, especially forages can vary widely in their nutrient composition due to various factors including forage species, stage of maturity at harvest and weather conditions during the growing season. The variability in the chemical composition is often much greater than most realize, even for forages such as straw, which are relatively homogenous. Dairy One Laboratories, maintains an online feed composition library. The average crude protein content (dry matter basis) of straw in the database from 2000-2018 (5790 samples) is 5.4%, crude protein, the range of crude protein values reported was 2.97-7.81%. Although, no there is no additional information regarding the forages in the database, the numbers illustrate that not all “straw is straw”.

This growing season producers have experienced the full spectrum of weather conditions from a cold, wet spring, to a lack of rainfall that has some regions back on the drought monitor. These conditions have affected the quality of harvested forages in many different ways. In some cases where harvest was delayed, forage quality may be well below the average values. Utilizing these forages based on their average or “normal” values may negatively influence animal performance. Forage testing is the tool that producers need to take out of the management toolbox this fall. Just like an EPD or body condition scoring, forage testing is a tool. Stop and consider, “Would you purchase or select a sire without using the tools science has developed to help you make the best management decisions?”

Are you willing to utilize forages and feedstuffs in your nutrition program this winter without data? If you are not familiar with how to properly sample your feedstuffs or submit a sample for analysis visit your local Extension office. They can help you determine the proper sampling protocol for your feedstuffs, help you submit the sample and select the appropriate analytical tests, to ensure you get the data you need to build your winter nutrition program.

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