Forage quality mixed this year

By Gary Sliworsky, Ag rep, Emo

Due to less-than-ideal growing conditions across the district this past summer, forage quality is extremely variable and, in some cases, more like bamboo than cattle feed!
I have seen samples range from six-19 percent crude protein and some total fibre levels above 65 percent.
Regardless of soil fertility and legume winter survival, species composition, and cutting dates, forage fed this year may well require some supplementation to produce pounds of beef or simply maintain body score on beef cows.
Don’t expect similar performance or similar forage intake with hay at 70 percent fibre. Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) is well-correlated to voluntary forage intake while acid detergent fibre (ADF) is correlated to forage energy prediction.
NDF contains all fibre components of forage, therefore representing the “bulk” of forage. ADF contains the fibre portions that are indigestible to a ruminant.
What is the message in this? If you feed out round bales and see them disappear, you may expect the animals are receiving adequate nutrients to meet your performance goals.
In reality, however, digestibility of these bulky forages is slow, intake is depressed, and their total energy is poor.
Animals actually may lose weight on these high NDF forages, especially when coupled with low temperature, wet conditions, or other stresses.
Consider the following when managing feed of this nature this winter:
•Sample all forages correctly and submit to an accredited lab, ensuring you receive an NDF analysis;
•Group cattle by feed requirements when possible;
•Grind or chop forages if you can access a tub or TMR mixer;
•Monitor forage intake carefully—a hay bale is not just a hay bale when it is 70 percent fibre.
“Well, they have hay” will not cut it, and may lead to longer-term problems with fertility, calvings, body condition targets, and rate of gain.
•Consider feeding more often as smaller meals often drive higher intakes.
Does this fit into your chore schedule?
As with all feeding changes, evaluate carefully and introduce slowly. Feed grain at least twice a day or more, and consider your grain purchases carefully.
Remember that good nutrition does not cost–it pays.
Dates to remember
•Jan. 20–Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting, 7 p.m., Our Lady of the Way School, Stratton.

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