By Alicia Sopatyk, PAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Tisdale
Let’s face it – we don’t always get the quality that we want when putting up feed for our livestock. Sometimes it rains and harvest gets delayed and sometimes feed is put up in record time. Either way, the nutritional quality is unknown and a visual test gives you little to work with. Testing your forages for quality each year at a lab that uses wet chemistry, combined with knowledge of your livestock’s nutrient requirements, will result in a more cost-effective and targeted winter feeding program that limits wastage, maximizes use of alternative feeds and ultimately helps us maintain or grow our livestock.
Taking a sample
Feed testing starts with a representative sample. For hay or silage bales, take core samples from 10 per cent of the bales at random per lot of feed (~10-20 samples). Silage pits should be sampled in a W or M pattern, taking 15-20 core samples per pit or pile. Probes for core sampling are available at all Ministry of Agriculture Regional Offices, or oftentimes your mineral or pellet provider can also assist you. Forage that was put up differently (i.e., lots of rain versus no rain) should be sent as separate samples. Samples should fill a large re-sealable zipper storage bag, be submitted as soon as possible and as directed by the lab.
What to test
Deciding what lab to send your sample to can be daunting. A list of testing labs is available on our Water Testing and Feed Contacts, Laboratories, and Companies web page.Each lab may have slightly different test combinations, but the most important things to look for are energy (Total Digestible Nutrients or TDN), crude protein (CP) and fiber (Neutral Detergent Fiber or NDF). Most tests also come with a few minerals like calcium and phosphorus. And for silage, it is advisable to include pH and ADIN (to determine if heating occurred). In a year like this, anything that was put up with a risk of nitrates should include a nitrate test. Other factors such as mycotoxins or sulphur can be tested on an as-needed basis.
Regional Livestock and Feed Extension Specialists can assist producers with interpretation of their feed test results. The numbers provide valuable information that allows you to target specific feeds for specific groups of livestock. This allows for proper management of nutrients to meet animals’ needs rather than over- or under-feeding. Using average values at this point results in average results. In many cases, fiber is too high, limiting intake and therefore nutrients available to the animal. On the flip side, if fiber isn’t limiting, there is potential to be overfeeding nutrients, costing you money. You can also use this information to see how your management in putting up the forage may have affected the quality.
Don’t wait until the middle of winter to realize a simple analysis could have helped you more strategically use your feed. Strive to be above average! Help us help you by feed testing before balancing rations for your livestock.
For more information, contact your nearest Regional Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Center at 1-866-457-2377.