When it comes to knowing the quality of their forage, cattle producers need to get the facts to help improve their bottomline profitability. That's why the Iowa Beef Center (IBC) and Iowa State University Extension beef specialists are encouraging producers to take advantage of a cost-share forage testing project.
With such a wet summer in 2010 in Iowa, a significant amount of the hay crop was laying on the ground and rained on before it could be baled. Also, the rainy weather delayed the cuttings from being made in many fields, so the hay when it eventually was cut was later in maturity than normally desired, which also adversely affects the quality of the forage.
Denise Schwab, ISU Extension beef program specialist who's helping lead the statewide forage testing project this fall, says hay and cattle producers who are uncertain about participating in the project should ask themselves a few questions, starting with: What's the cost/benefit ratio of testing your 2010 hay crop? What can you find out by having your forage tested?
Meet nutritional needs of cows, control feed costs, cut waste
"The testing is simple and the cost is low," says Schwab. "Through the IBC project, your share is just $6.19 thanks to sponsorship of the Grass Based Livestock Working Group of the Leopold Center at ISU, the Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, and the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee. The benefits are you're able to better meet the nutritional needs of your cow herd while controlling feed costs and waste."
If producers still aren't convinced that they should be testing their hay supply, Schwab suggests that a more important question might be: "What is the cost if you DON'T test your forages?"
She has looked at the results from early project samples that were sampled and tested this fall and found some sobering results. About half of the hay samples had inadequate energy to maintain a late gestation cow and about 20% were inadequate in protein.
Results of forage samples tested this fall indicate problems
"A mature 1,350-pound beef cow eating 30-plus pounds of hay per day at these levels would actually be losing one and a half pounds per day, or half of a body condition score per month during late gestation," Schwab said. "That's definitely not what you want to see in your cows."
Ramifications of a herd losing 1.5 to 2 body condition scores, or BCS, between now and calving time are costly in several ways, says Schwab. "Cows that are too thin at calving typically have a higher incidence of calving difficulty and weaker calves at birth. Also, their calves tend to have lower weaning weights," she points out. "Thin cows also produce lower volumes of colostrum with lower levels of immunoglobulins than cows in a body condition score of 5 or 6, and their calves have a lower resistance to disease."
Knowing hay composition is vital to make feeding decisions
She adds, "Another consideration is cows that have a body condition score below 5 at calving time have a slower return to estrus, resulting in later-born calves in the following years. Just two-thirds of the cows that have a BCS of 4 at time of calving are cycling 90 days after calving."
Knowing the composition of your hay is vital in making decisions that will meet the nutrition needs of your herd and in turn, have a more positive effect in your cattle operation. "At less than $7 per sample as part of this project, forage testing is an inexpensive investment in the health of your herd," Schwab emphasizes.
For more information on the forage testing project and testing in general to help you formulate and balance rations, contact your ISU Extension county office.