Originally written for Progressive Cattlemen
Has the hay you plan to feed this winter been tested? If so, you have the tools necessary to help maintain appropriate body condition for your herd and better plan for those potential winter storms. If you haven’t tested your hay, that ~$30 will be money very well spent. Whether purchased or put up yourself, the importance of forage analysis cannot be overstated. A producer may feel really confident that their hay is “high” quality, but there is really only one way to be sure that the herd is getting sufficient fuel for their stage of production – Test it!
If hay is the main forage during breeding season and protein and energy are just a little off, there will be cows calving 3 weeks later the following year. The result could be a 50 lbs. lighter calf at weaning. However, with a forage analysis in hand, producers can know how much of a gap might exist and plan accordingly. The “UGA Basic Balancer” developed by Dr. Lawton Stewart can be found online to help assist in ration planning.
After calving, a cow’s nutritional requirements will obviously increase. Assuming a body condition score of 5 for cows and 6 for heifers, visualize that they will lose roughly a body condition score (80 to 100 lbs. of energy reserves) even with ideal nutrition. From calving to peak lactation, which is about 50 days, nutritional requirements will increase quickly. Peak lactation requirements are 12% crude protein (CP) and 60% TDN (energy). Cows in late lactation should be bred but still require 9-10% CP and 55% TDN. Even the “dry” cow should be monitored for body condition particularly during the cold snaps to come. The dry cow is still pregnant and needs to provide essential nutrients to the calf in-utero. This group of cows still need at least 7% crude protein and 50% TDN on a dry matter basis. Please note that this is right after drying off and the nutritional requirements will gradually increase until calving.
An additional benefit of forage testing is knowing potential nitrate levels. When levels are nearing 8,000 ppm or higher, serious planning needs to take place to minimize impact and death loss in the herd. Cattle turned directly onto forages that have a dramatic difference in nitrate levels can die rather quickly. A forage analysis may save your cows and your calf crops.