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Measure and Manage - Feed Test Your Winter Feed Supply

By: Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist

September 2017

The dry growing conditions experienced across much of the province this season has caused many producers to consider alternative forage options for livestock winter feed. Producers may be looking at annual forages or salvaged grain crops as options to fill the feed deficit. The importance of knowing the nutrient content of these alternative forage options should not be overlooked.

Feed testing your forages can help to manage the winter feeding period. The protein and energy requirements of the cow herd increase through pregnancy and lactation (See table 1). Feed test information can be used to design a balanced ration that meets cow requirements, based on the stage of production. Feed testing can identify any feeding concerns that may be an issue, such as lower protein or energy than expected. It can also be used to quantify problematic factors with alternative feeds, such as high sulphur content or high nitrate levels. High sulphur content can be an issue in salvaged canola crops and some weeds such as kochia and lambs quarters. High sulphur levels in the diet can lead to trace mineral deficiencies and reduced animal growth and production. Sulphur toxicity can also lead to polioencephalomalacia (PEM), a neurological disorder leading to animal death.

Each type of forage should be submitted for a feed test. For instance, if a producer harvests an alfalfa/grass mixed stand, barley greenfeed, and a salvage canola crop for greenfeed, samples from each of these fields should be collected and submitted for feed analysis separately. 

When submitting forage samples for feed testing, it is important to collect a sample that is representative of the forage supply. A hay probe is the best tool to use to collect forage samples. A hay probe allows for a cross section of the bale to be sampled, collecting both stems and leaves. Collect a single sample from up to about 20 bales from the same field or lot. Combine the probe core samples into one composite sample for analysis. When sampling large round bales, samples should be collected on the round side from the lower half of the bale, where there is a minimal amount of weathering. Hay probes are available for use from each Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Regional Office at no charge.

When submitting the forage sample, take the time to describe the forage properly. For example, a description of “70 per cent brome grass, 30 per cent alfalfa” or “barley greenfeed” provides greater detail than “hay.” Choosing the most appropriate feed analysis is important. A standard forage quality test provides information on moisture, energy, fiber and mineral content. Feed test results are reported on an “as fed” and a “dry matter” basis. Dry matter basis means that all the moisture has been removed, which is important when comparing nutrient content between forages or other feed ingredients.

For more information on feed testing your forage supply this fall, contact your local Regional Forage or Regional Livestock Specialist or contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377. For hay probe availability and use, contact your local Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Regional Office.

Table 1. Protein and energy requirements of beef cows

Cows (all values as 100 % Dry Matter)


Crude Protein (%)

Total Digestible Nutrients (% min)

Mid pregnancy

7 - 8


Late pregnancy

9 - 10



11 - 12


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