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Cost/Benefit Analysis Of Forage Testing Is Favourable

26 November 2010

US - When it comes to knowing the quality of your forage, cattle producers owe it to their bottom line to have the facts. That’s why the Iowa Beef Center (IBC) and Iowa State University (ISU) Extension beef specialists are encouraging producers to take advantage of a cost-share forage testing project.

Denise Schwab, ISU Extension beef programme specialist who’s helping lead the project, said producers who are uncertain about participating in the project should ask themselves a few questions starting with, “What’s the cost/benefit ration of testing the 2010 hay crop?”

“The testing is simple and the cost is low. Through the IBC project, your share is just $6.19 thanks to sponsorship of the Grass Based Livestock Working Group of the Leopold Center, the Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, and Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee,” Ms Schwab said. “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, Ms Schwab suggested that a more important question might be, “What is the cost if you DON’T test your forages?”

She looked at results from early project samples and found some sobering results. About half of the hay samples had inadequate energy to maintain a late gestation cow, and about 20 per cent were inadequate in protein.

“A mature 1350-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,” Ms 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 (BCS) between now and calving are costly in several ways Ms Schwab said.

“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 said. “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.

“Finally, cows that have a body condition score below 5 at calving have a slower return to estrus, resulting in later calves in following years. Just two-thirds of cows at 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 operation, Ms Schwab said. At less than $7 per sample as part of this project, forage testing is an inexpensive investment in the health of your herd.

For more information on the forage testing project, contact your ISU Extension county office.

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