Albertans are being advised to test their winter forage supplies this fall.
“Livestock feed supplies are going to be tight in some areas of Alberta, while in other areas, quality may be an issue,” says Andrea Hanson, beef extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
Testing identifies the nutrients available so the ration can be formulated properly.
“Using last year’s feed tests, or even worse, using a provincial average for a feed’s nutritional content, isn’t realistic or useful,” says Hanson. “While physical attributes are part of feed quality, they don’t tell the whole story. A bright green colour does help indicate the feed was put up with little or no rain, and that the mould level is little to none, but it doesn’t tell much more than that. Protein and energy content of the same hay field can vary greatly depending on when it was cut. Brome cut very early in the year could reach 18 per cent protein while that same forage may only be five to six per cent protein if cut late.”
Forage and beef specialist Barry Yaremcio says the protein requirements of a cow in second trimester of pregnancy is a minimum of seven per cent and is significantly different than when she reaches the third trimester (nine per cent) or lactation (11 per cent).
The key information, says Hanson, is protein, energy and fibre.
A basic forage analysis will list the moisture content of the feed stuff, energy as total digestible nutrients (TDN), net energy (NE) and/or digestible energy (DE), crude protein values as well as calcium, and phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. A basic analysis should cost less than $50, which is much less than the cost of a round bale of feed, let alone the possible savings from using fewer bales of hay mixed with lower quality forages.
More advanced analytical packages are available when more details are required.
“If an early frost or crop stress has been experienced in an area, for example, a nitrate test may be very beneficial as would a toxin test,” he says.
Getting a representative sample of the feed to test is important in feeling confident with the analysis, says Hanson. “If sampling bales, samples need to be taken from a number of bales, at least 15-20, from different areas in the field and then mixed into one sample. Using a commercial forage sampler makes the process much easier, and often local agriculture service boards or forage associations have equipment available for loan.
“Use plastic bags to ship the feed so that an accurate moisture level can be determined. If sampling from a silage pit, rub the loose material off the face before taking the sample from packed material from the freshest part of the silage face, and from several locations in a ‘W’ or ‘M’ pattern. Mix the samples and pack tightly into a plastic bag with as little air as possible. If the samples won’t get to the lab right away, freeze to prevent any change to the silage characteristics. Finally, if you want a sample of swath grazing feed, take a tub and scissors out to the field and pull various samples from the swath from locations all over the field. As the samples are pulled, cut the feed into two-inch lengths and mix in the tub. From the total sample, stuff a large zip-lock bag with a representative sample of the feed for analysis.”