By Gary Sliworsky, Ag rep, Emo
To come through the winter in good condition and produce a healthy calf next spring, your cows need to receive proper nutrition.
This means the appropriate amounts of energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins from the feed they eat.
The only way to have any confidence that you are providing the right nutrition is to know the nutrient composition of the feeds you are using—which means you need to have your feed tested.
Feed testing is important because the nutrient content of feeds, especially forages, can be highly variable due to species make-up, different cutting dates, stage of maturity when cut, and the drying conditions after the hay was cut.
Testing is even more important this year due to the abnormal extended wet weather we experienced.
You can’t assume your hay is the same quality as in other more “normal” years.
In order for the feed testing to be reliable, the samples taken must be representative of the total forage on hand, meaning samples should be taken and tested for each type of hay.
A good sample is obtained by taking at least a dozen core samples from bales, mixing them together, and submitting about one litre for analysis.
A core sampler should be used as it is more accurate than just pulling a handful off of a bale.
One is available for use, at no charge, from the agriculture office in Emo.
Once you have the analysis back on your samples, an accurate ration formulation can be prepared based upon animal requirements.
This allows for the most efficient use of the feeds you have, and is particularly important when the feed supply is limited.
Many producers I talk to feel feed testing is costly and unnecessary, saying “the hay I put up is all I have to give the livestock, regardless of its nutrient content, so why test?”
The cost of testing is inexpensive, and should be viewed as one more valuable production tool.
A small difference in quality can have a large effect on your total winter feed costs.
For example, feeding a lower-quality forage to your cows during early pregnancy, and keeping the better quality until calving, reduces the amount of grain and protein supplement required by the cows.
Feeding better-quality forage to the younger, growing animals rather than the older ones also will reduce feed costs by reducing the amount of supplement required.
Proper feed testing and ration formulation also can prevent costly over-feeding.