Visual assessments are not enough to gauge feed quality, and a feed test is an economical way to protect against under or overfeeding certain critical components of a feed ration, such as protein or energy, says Andrea Hanson.
Hanson is the beef extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture & Forestry, and says that feed testing all ration components can not only help keep animals in prime shape for their stage of production but can also mean money saved through limit-feeding certain ingredients that could end up wasted.
How should you feed test? “Make sure you’re getting a representative sample across the field,” Hanson says, which likely means testing several bales from different parts of the field. If you plan to swath graze, testing should be done after swathing, and across many areas of the field. Hanson notes that while hay appearance can give you some indication of the relative quality of a field (if it’s been rained on, for example), it’s not a reliable way to measure actual feed components.
There are also some handy tools to help formulate rations, once you have all the feed tests in hand. Take it to a nutritionist, or plug it into the Beef Cattle Research Council’s web tools that can indicate the best use of feed stuffs, or you can purchase software, such as Cow Bytes, to formulate and balance rations.