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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 753

September 28, 2011



Forage Focus: Forage Analysis - Sampling and Interpretation of Results - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA

Over much of Ohio this past summer's weather, while good for forage growth, was not conducive to making high quality hay. Farmers had to work around frequent rain showers and sometimes it was a question of delaying cutting while the forage continued to mature and lose quality, or cut and then watch as the crop was rained on. Either way, there is some poor quality hay that will get fed this winter.

The economics of feeding livestock are improved by matching the nutrient needs of the animal to forage quality. When forage quality comes up short of the animal's nutrient needs then the ration must be supplemented. The only way to really have a good handle on forage quality is through forage testing. Reliable results depend upon submitting a good sample. Here are some tips for collecting a hay sample:

* Use a hay probe to collect the sample. Reaching into a bale of hay with your hand and pulling out a sample is not accurate. A hay probe allows you to take a good cross section of the bale, getting a representative sample of both leaves and stems. Check with your county extension office about a hay probe. Many offices have one that can be signed out and used to collect a forage sample.

* Take cores from 15-20 bales within a lot of hay to get a more accurate average of hay quality. On large round bales, if the outer layer is weathered and not going to be eaten by livestock then pull away the weathered layer and sample from that point going in towards the core of the bale. It is important to try to mimic in your sampling what the animal is actually going to consume.

* A lot of hay can be determined by species, cutting date and location. For example, 1st cutting fescue hay vs. 1st cutting orchardgrass hay would be two different lots of hay, requiring two different samples submitted for testing. A first cutting orchardgrass hay baled on May 20th vs. a 1st cutting orchardgrass hay baled on June 20th are far enough apart in quality that separate samples should be submitted even though both are 1st cutting. A 1st cutting hay baled from a high fertility field vs. a 1st cutting hay purchased from a neighbor's rarely fertilized field should be considered as two different samples even if the hay was cut and baled about the same time and has similar species.

* As you sample, empty the forage cores into a plastic bag. Usually a 1 quart ziplock bag works well. Make sure the bag is clearly labeled. If you are sampling silage or baleage and there is going to be a time lag between sampling and delivery to whatever office may be sending off the sample for analysis, then refrigerate or freeze the sample.

What kind of forage analysis do you need? A basic forage analysis that I recommend for most livestock owners includes moisture content, crude protein (CP), Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Total Digestible Nutrient (TDN) content, and Net Energy (NE). For dairy producers who may want to pay more attention to Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) when balancing a ration, or for anyone who wants more forage quality information, then the next level of forage analysis provides all the information in the basic forage analysis plus Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Digestible Dry Matter (DDM), Dry Matter Intake (DMI) and Relative Feed Value (RFV).

Once the results of the forage analysis come back you need to be able to interpret the results and make some sense of the numbers. We'll start with a simple definition and explanation of some basic forage quality terminology.

* Moisture content: No forage is 100% dry matter, even though animal intake, nutrient requirements, forage nutrient contents and rations are based on 100% dry matter so that forages can be compared equally with one another. The moisture content can also tell you something about the quality of that forage. For example, if the moisture content of a large round bale is above 15%, or a small square bale above 18%, there is likely to be some storage and mold problems.

* Crude Protein (CP): This figure is the nitrogen content x 6.25. Protein is needed for amino acid production and growth. Livestock nutrient requirements are based on a percentage of the diet composed of CP, or a given weight of CP that needs to be consumed each day.

* Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN): TDN is used as a measure of energy. It is calculated from the ADF percentage. Often livestock energy requirements are stated in terms of percent of the diet that should be TDN or in pound of TDN that should be consumed per day.

* Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF): This is a measure of the amount of hemi cellulose, cellulose and lignin contained in the forage. NDF is inversely correlated with intake, that is, as NDF levels increase, intake decreases.

* Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF): This is a measure of the amount of cellulose and lignin contained in forage. ADF is used in digestibility calculations and is inversely correlated with digestibility.

* Relative Feed Value (RFV): This is a calculated value, using the percent digestible dry matter (DDM) and dry matter intakes (DMI), which themselves are calculated values that use ADF and NDF. RFV is generally used to compare forage quality between lots of hay. Full bloom alfalfa and grass hay at the seed head stage will have a RFV around 100.

Now on to the actual numbers themselves. The following tables have been excerpted from an OSU Extension Fact Sheet entitled "Forages for Dairy Cattle", and will provide some typical forage analysis ranges for various quality terms.

1. Legumes

Maturity Quality Measure
Stage Crude Protein ADF NDF RFV
Pre-bloom >19 <31 <40 >140
Early bloom 17-19 31-35 40-46 124-140
Mid-bloom 13-16 36-41 47-51 101-123
Full-bloom <13 >41 >51 <100

2. Grasses and Grass/Legume mixtures

Maturity Quality Measure
Stage Crude Protein ADF NDF RFV
Pre-head >18 <33 <55 124-140
Early head 13-18 33-38 55-60 101-123
Head (until seed is in milk stage) 8-12 39-41 61-65 83-100
Post head <8 >41 >65 <83

Notice that while the ADF figures for quality are similar between legumes and grasses of equal maturity, the NDF content of grasses is significantly higher than the NDF content of legumes of a similar maturity. When I see grass hay NDF levels that are above 70 I know that intake of that forage will be limited and rate of passage through the rumen will be slow.

Of course, while a forage analysis may be interesting in and of itself, the real value is using the results to balance the livestock ration. Guessing about the need for supplementation can be expensive. For more information about forage sampling, testing and interpretation of results, contact your county extension office, or a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team.





Value of Forages is Rising - Dr. Mark A. McCann, Extension Animal Scientist, VA Tech

Feed grain prices remain at near record prices and the cost of by-products that Virginia cattlemen annually depend on are running about 20% higher than last year. In addition to feed costs, fertilizer and fuel cost escalation have increased the costs of harvested forages. It is these conditions that mitigate the net profits of a cow-calf operation in a time when cattlemen are receiving almost record prices. The chart below contains a breakdown of the major cash expenses for a cow-calf unit in western Virginia (ERS, 2010). The numbers will not match every operation, but the key point is the contribution of purchased and harvested feeds of the total cost; about 56%. If pasture costs had been added to the feed costs, the total nutritional costs would be close to 70% of the cash expenses.

Economic analysis of cow-calf records in a number of the Midwest and Great Plains states have consistently identified lower annual winter costs with high profit operations and the inverse where low profit operations have an above average winter feed expenditure. Herd size does tend to play a role where smaller herds (<30) tend to have a higher feed cost. Figure 2 contains the total cash costs and some key components plotted over the last 15 years. The trend is up on all costs, but the key point to detect is that pasture costs have been and continue to be one of the more stable costs over time. This pasture cost in this summary would include a bare minimum of fertilizer. The use and amount of fertilizer applied to pastureland would certainly change the trend line. As in Figure 1, the source of the cost data is the Economic Research Service and an annual survey which they conduct. Thus the values presented are the average of information provided by cattlemen in the survey area.

Virginia Cooperative Extension budgets indicate that it costs about $1.35/d to feed grass hay to a 1200 lb cow during the winter. A 90 d winter feeding period totals $ 121.50/cow/year. However, if the hay feeding period is 135 d then the cost/cow totals $182/cow. Extending the grazing season 30-45d can have important financial impact on the herd. Supplement costs are not included in these totals. Generally as long as there is green grass to graze supplement is not needed. Depending on cow nutrient needs and hay quality, significant investment in supplement can be needed to achieve the same result as grazing stockpiled fescue.

Given the current cost environment, the value of grazed forage has increased when compared to a day of winter hay feeding. Secondly, the quality of the hay has become more of an issue when you consider the cost of supplying TDN or protein from feed grains or by-products to balance the nutrient needs that are unmet when feeding poor hay.

Steps to remember:
1) maximize grazing / minimize use of stored forages
2) store forages to minimize weather damage and loss
3) test forages to insure that supplementation is accurate and efficient

It is true that input costs have increased the annual costs of cow-calf production. It is also true that those cost escalations have increased the value of every grazing day and the value of high quality forages. Management and financial decisions (stockpiling fescue, adding clovers, etc.) need to account for the changing cost and returns that you face in today's production environment.

EDITOR's NOTE: Monitoring and further reducing whole herd costs of production will be the focus of one evening during this winter's Ohio Beef School. Find the dates in the OSU Extension Beef Team web calendar and plan to attend. Details and locations will be announced later this fall.





Two Stories in the Latest Cattle on Feed Report - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist

The September Cattle on Feed report was a bit of a surprise; at least in some respects. Placements were well below the range of pre-report estimates at 99 percent of a year ago and that, combined with marketings at 107 percent of last year, which was on the upper end of the estimates, put the September 1, cattle on feed inventory at 105 percent of last year, noticeably less than the expected level of 108 percent.

The expectations for this report reflected a focus on one market factor but failed to anticipate the other story in this report. Widespread expectations that the drought was continuing to force cattle into the feedlot early were borne out dramatically by the sharp increase in placements in Texas, up 15 over year ago levels for the month, and by the placement weights, in which all of the increase was in the under 600 pound category. In total, placements of cattle weighing less than 600 pounds was up 44 percent, led by Texas, which was up 70 percent. In Nebraska, total placements were down, at 93 percent of last year, but placements of under 600 pound animals was up 63 percent year over year for the month. This likely reflects movement of lightweight feeder cattle out of the drought areas. There are indications that numerous cows have been placed in feedlots as well but it is unclear if the cows are accounted for in the cattle on feed total. The weight distribution would not suggest very many cows in the on-feed total but the COF questionnaire does not clarify cows versus steers and heifers on feed. Nevertheless, the drought impacts were much as anticipated and were very dramatic.

What was not well anticipated was the fact that, in absence of the drought, feeder supplies are extraordinarily tight and that led to significantly lower placements in some other parts of the country. Placements were down 15 percent in Kansas and 10 percent in Iowa and 7 percent in Nebraska. Placement weights tell the story even more dramatically. Though the lightest weight placements were up 44 percent, placements of cattle over 600 pounds was down 13.5 percent. Poor feeding prospects likely also contributed to fewer placements, especially given the lack of heavy feeders available. Without the drought, total placements in July would have been substantially lower and in August would have well below last year and the on-feed total for September 1 would have been about even with last year.

What to expect for the rest of the year? Placements of lightweight feeders should decrease as most of those cattle have now moved out of drought areas or have reached higher weights. Additionally, imports and placement of lightweight Mexican cattle have dropped sharply after the state of Chihuahua dropped to a lower TB status in August, which will restrict feeder imports for the remainder of the year. Calves and summer stockers have performed excellently in areas north of Interstate 70, where forage quantity and quality have been very good. Those cattle will begin moving into feedlots in September and October, thus producing a somewhat more normal placement weight distribution. Lightweight calves from the southeast that usually move into winter grazing in the Southern Plains will likely move into other areas for backgrounding, though some will move directly into feedlots.

Though it is difficult to know what would have happened, it seem likely that some 500,000+ head of cattle were placed in July and August that would not have been placed until the fall without the drought. Drought impacts may continue but feeder movements from this point on are consistent with normal seasonal patterns. Cumulative feedlot placements for the year to date are up 3.5 percent despite the fact that estimated feeder supplies were down 3.3 percent in January and 2.5 percent in July. No doubt some potential replacement heifers have entered feedlots due to the drought and increased feeder imports have boosted feeder supplies but much of the difference is in the timing. Feedlot placements in September and October are likely to be down from year ago levels. Feedlots will have an increasingly difficult time maintaining inventories through the end of the year and into next year.





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BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.

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