By Jenay Werle, PAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Yorkton
Feed testing is important to understand the quality of your feed inventory, but what do you do with the information once you have it?
Feed testing and ration balancing go hand–in-hand. Building a winter feeding plan takes into account the nutritional needs of your livestock and balances them against the different types of forages and grains that you may have on hand. It will also help identify the forages and grains that you will need to purchase for the correct balance. This is an important exercise when feed is plentiful and of good quality, but it is even more important to do when inventory is short and quality may be limited.
Ration balancing can be an effective tool for managing your feed inventory and can reduce your cost of production. Over-feeding is costly and wastes feed, while underfeeding is costly in terms of animal health and welfare. A balanced ration refers to the amount of feed that will supply the proper amount and proportions of nutrients required for an animal to perform a specific purpose: growth, maintenance, gestation or lactation.
When designing your winter feeding plan, it is important to think about the stage of production of your livestock. For example, as calving approaches, the energy and protein requirements of pregnant cows increases, and peaks during lactation. In addition, the added stress of rebreeding is placed on the cows during this time, so it is paramount that she is in good physical condition. The high nutrient requirement during lactation applies to all breeding stock, so a good rule of thumb is to give your cows, ewes, does, etc., your higher energy and protein feeds during this time. For example, if your feed inventory includes a high proportion of straw, it is best to use it earlier in pregnancy and save the better feed for later. It is important to keep in mind that growing animals like backgrounding calves have even higher energy and protein requirements than mature breeding stock.
Feed is a major cost of producing livestock; making the most efficient use of those feeds plays a key role in the profitability of your livestock operation. Different tools exist to help producers use their feed test information in balancing rations and developing feeding plans. CowBytes is a ration balancing software program for designing beef cattle rations. It is affordable and user friendly. It allows users to enter their individual feed test results and herd information right into the program, and use those figures to balance the energy, protein, mineral and vitamin requirements of different classes of cattle. By including the purchase price of bought feed or the expenses associated with putting up home grown feed, CowBytes users can compare the cost of different rations using different ingredients. The end result is a more cost-effective ration.
The Ministry of Agriculture has developed tutorials to help producers use the CowBytes Ration Balancing program. The tutorials cover a variety of topics from entering data to generating reports.
If you would like to learn more about feed testing and ration balancing, please contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 to speak to a regional livestock and feed extension specialist near you.