Your rations are about to change, so be prepared with good analysis


Spring finally arrived and with the moisture and warmth, the forages are now rapidly growing.

For those who graze, I’m sure the turnout to pasture has already occurred. So, management of the pasture for the stocking density to provide adequate intake by animals and sustain plant health will be very important over the next few months.

Whether you graze or not, it will be time to harvest grass or legumes soon for hay or silage.

For some, this may especially be welcomed because you are almost out of the 2014 forage crop. So, as always, stage of maturity and proper moisture level at harvest will be key at obtaining and storing forage of high quality.

Due to the rapid growing conditions and more difficulty of the timely harvest due to rain events, quality of the first cutting is often less than for subsequent cuttings.

Thus, with this new forage, and if you were feeding late seasonal cuttings from 2014, and now will be switching to the 2015 first-cutting forage, major changes may be occurring in quality of feed.

Things to do

So, we need to take active steps to address this.

First, you or your nutritionist should obtain a representative sample of the new forage, whether it be hay, balage, or haylage. Several resources are available that can provide guidance on how to take a good sample, including your nutritionist or the lab to which you plan to send the sample.

This is the most important step in feed analysis because an improperly sampled feed will result in bad data for ration formulation. This should be done well in advance of your needing to feed the forage so the results can be used to change the ration before the first batch is mixed with it.

Secondly, the following are minimum analyses that you need on the new forage: dry matter (DM), crude protein, adjusted crude protein, neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber, and NDF digestibility measure (e.g., NDF digestibility at specific time point, total tract NDF digestibility, and/or undigested NDF).

Several other analyses can provide the nutritionist with valuable information for formulating the new ration, but these are minimal for ration adjustment and comparing the new forage to the one presently in the ration.

Dry matter

Third, conduct a DM on the new forage at the farm so you can compare with what appears on the lab report when it arrives. Also, this should be done weekly on wet forages so the ration can be adjusted regularly if needed for the ration delivered to the animals.

Fourth, after the lab report arrives, it should be discussed with your nutritionist so they can share with you how the rations are going to need to change and what, if any, changes may be expected by the animals when the new forage is fed.

Fifth, this initial lab report will be very important in the new formulation of the ration, but continual analyses will be needed to account for variation in field and harvest conditions or changes occurring during storage.

With each subsequent analysis, then your nutritionist can determine a running average of feed composition that can be used for ration formulation so that the ration will not have to be formulated based on a single analysis each time.

This is important because errors may occur with sampling or lab analyses. Also, the feed selected for sampling may not best represent the feed your about to use, so again its best if less weight is placed on a single source of data.

So, a suggested approach is to use 25, 25, and 50 percent weighed average of analytical values for the three most recent analyses, with the most recent weighed at 50 percent.

Plan ahead

Life gets very busy during this time of year with graduation parties, planting, spring “projects,” and then of course harvesting of lush grass and legume forages.

Take time to discuss with your nutritionist these changes that are about to happen and make sure one of you are on top of the sampling and analytical plans. Without this approach, milk production will most likely drop when the new forage is added to the ration.

Adjustments can then be made, but you won’t get back the milk already lost. When you “make haste while the sun shines”, already have the plan in place of how the new forage will be analyzed and the data will be used for having the new ration on the tractor at feeding time.

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